Brown vs Reid: the ‘people meter’ verdict

Frank Luntz is an American pollster who believes in ‘people meter’ research — where members of a focus group indicate — second by second — by moving a knob whether they’re approving or disapproving of a political speaker. He did some of this research for BBC2’s Newsnight last week and was roundly criticised for his pains. Here’s part of his response.

In the past weeks a number of Labour-leaning columnists have laid out the case for why Gordon Brown should be the next leader of Labour. But what you never hear is why he will be the next elected prime minister.

Interestingly, the voters in my session came out clearly in favour of John Reid, not Gordon Brown, as the next party leader. Polly Toynbee, writing in The Guardian last week, suggested dismissively that it was just because of the “hesitant” Brown response to a reporter’s questions about his role in the leadership coup and “the full-on harangue” Reid recently unleashed against the legal system.

Actually, she’s correct — but she ignores the significance in her conclusion. You be the judge. Here’s exactly what Reid said that made the Labour-leaning voters sit up in their seats, nod their heads and cheer: “Any system which allows foreign prisoners back on our street without even considering deportation has something wrong with it — full stop. No qualifications. A court judgment that puts the human rights of foreign prisoners ahead of the right to safety of UK citizens is wrong — full stop. No qualifications. A Parole Board decision that emphasises the rights of a convicted murderer over the rights and safety of his potential victims is tragically, murderously wrong — full stop.”

The “people meters” soared, and it was the single best-received language of the evening. To Toynbee that was a full-on harangue. But to Labour-leaners and floating voters it was good plain common sense. Could you imagine Brown speaking with such emotional clarity? Could you imagine Brown with such steely determination?

I dislike Reid intensely. He is a typical ex-Communist thug who has simply done a 180-degree ideological shift. These guys never change their spots. But there is one silver lining in the cloud of a possible Reid leadership. Roy ‘Fat Boy’ Hattersley has declared that he will shoot himself if Reid becomes Labour’s leader.