What Harriet Harman’s poll shows: Labour should elect Hilary Benn deputy leader

by Stephen Tall on November 27, 2006

‘Harman would be most popular deputy PM, says poll’, according to today’s thegrauniad. Here’s what the headline should have read:

‘Harman most dis-liked deputy PM candidate, and would not help Labour’s re-election chances, says poll’.

(I accept I’ll never make it as a sub-editor.)

Here’s why…

The YouGov poll begins by asking those surveyed how ‘warmly’ they feel towards each of the candidates on a scale of 0-10.

I’ve aggregated the scores, assuming that a 0-5 rating indicates a candidate is either not liked, or else the public is neutral towards them. A rating of 6-10 suggests a generally positive impression.

It’s a simple way of working out who’s hot and who’s not. So let’s look at how the six short-listed candidates line up:

  • Hilary Benn: 36% (0-5), 17% (6-10) = -19% (net likeability)
  • Hazel Blears: 42%, 6% = -36%
  • Harriet Harman: 52%, 17% = -35%
  • Peter Hain: 44%, 13% = -31%
  • Alan Johnson: 37%, 13% = -24%
  • Jon Cruddas: 23%, 4% = -19%

What the figures clearly show is that Harriet Harman is the most polarizing of the deputy leadership candidates. She ties with Hilary Benn as the most liked, with 17% of the public regarding each of them warmly. However, Hilary Benn is the least disliked (apart from Jon Cruddas, who no-one’s ever heard of), with 36%.

Contrast this with Harriet Harman, whom a whopping 52% view negatively – she is, by some way, the most disliked of the deputy leadership candidates. Her net likeability rating, at -35%, avoids being the lowest only because Hazel Blears’ Panglossian chirpiness appears to have got on too many people’s nerves.

It’s clear from these figures that the most liked – or, at any rate, least disliked – of the candidates is Hilary Benn.

The second question asks ‘which potential deputy leader you think would be best alongside Gordon Brown’.

There are a number of choices, which again I’ve aggregated, according to which of the candidates would make the public ‘more likely’ or ‘less likely’ to vote Labour at the next election. I’ve also recorded the aggregate numbers of those who said it would make no difference – either because they definitely would or definitely would not vote Labour anyway, or because they didn’t know.

  • GB & Hilary Benn: 12% (more likely), 12% (less likely), 76% (no difference, don’t know)
  • GB & Hazel Blears: 8%, 16%, 76%
  • GB & Harriet Harman: 15%, 15%, 70%
  • GB & Peter Hain: 9%, 15%, 75%
  • GB & Alan Johnson: 8%, 17%, 75%
  • GB & Jon Cruddas: 6%, 14%, 80%

My overwhelming sense from these figures is that Labour’s chances at the next election are not going to hinge on their choice of deputy leader – the vast majority of the public are entirely indifferent. And though we can expect more people to become interested once the prospective race becomes a reality, it still seems highly unlikely to sway folk one way or t’other.

Interestingly, thegrauniad’s report – which I imagine borrows largely from Team Harman’s press release – says:

The survey, commissioned from independent pollsters YouGov by the constitutional affairs minister herself, found that 15% of voters would be more inclined to vote Labour if she succeeded John Prescott.

Well, true enough. Strangely omitted from this paragraph is the balancing fact that 15% of voters would be less inclined to vote Labour if Harriet Harman were to succeed John Prescott. You’d have thought thegrauniad might have felt that merited reporting. Because what it shows is that electing Harriet Harman as deputy leader would make absolutely no difference to Labour’s prospects at the next election.

In fairness to Ms Harman, her rivals are all vote-losers, whereas she is at least vote-neutral. All her rivals, that is, except that man Hilary Benn again.

The last two questions are the most loaded ones – ‘do you agree that:

  • … a men-only leadership team would show that Labour is old-fashioned?’, and
  • … it’s important to me that the next Deputy Prime Minister is someone I already know, not someone I’ve never heard of.’

Well, I think we can guess what answers Team Harman were hoping to garner. And, lo, so it came to pass. It appears the public don’t like to appear old-fashioned, but (perhaps a tad ironically) are comforted by the idea of someone familiar.

Fortunately, the Labour Party has before it the perfect choice. Hilary Benn: generally well-regarded, with one of the most famous surnames in British politics. And he’s got a girl’s first-name, which assures Labour of a balanced ticket.

And what’s even better is that there is an opinion poll showing him to be the most likeable of the candidates, and someone who won’t harm Labour’s electoral chances. It’s really awfully nice of Team Harman to fork out a few thousand quid to show why Labour should elect Hilary Benn as their next deputy leader.