Thursday, 4 April 2013

Was Gordon Brown the most unpopular Prime Minister of modern times?

Conservative Home has an article this morning criticising David Cameron for failing to win a majority against "the most unpopular Prime Minister of modern times."

This is a phrase used so often that nobody stops to question whether it is true.

So was Gordon Brown the most unpopular PM of modern times?

Well luckily it's very easy to check. Pollsters IPSOS Mori have recorded public satisfaction with British Prime Ministers for decades.

Here's their latest graph showing the popularity of Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron over the course of their terms as Prime Minister.

Gordon Brown certainly was very unpopular and had a quicker fall in popularity than other recent Prime Ministers.

But by the time he left office in 2010 he was actually slightly less unpopular than David Cameron.

In April 2010, after almost three years in power, Gordon Brown had a net satisfaction of -24.

In March 2013 after almost three years in power David Cameron has a net satisfaction of -30.

So David Cameron is more unpopular now than Gordon Brown was after a similar amount of time in power.

And it's not just David Cameron.

By June 1994 John Major had a satisfaction rating of just -54. Far less than either Cameron or Brown.

His predecessor Margaret Thatcher fared better, but even she became more unpopular by the end.

By March 1990, Margaret Thatcher had a net satisfaction of -56, the lowest of any Prime Minister in modern times.

Whichever way you look at these figures it's hard to claim that Gordon Brown was the most unpopular Prime Minister of modern times.

However there is another simpler measure of popularity: winning elections.

By that measure, Gordon Brown is certainly the least successful Prime Minister of modern times, if not actually the most personally unpopular.


Nick James said...

Unless I'm very much mistaken, Cameron didn't win an election either. Which makes him on par in the success stakes.

AdamB said...

Well he didn't win a majority but his party did get more votes and seats than Brown's obviously.

Anonymous said...

Its also interesting to think about what his reputation will be in, say 30 years time. I choose that time period as looking back it roughly takes you back to Jim Callaghan, who also led the fag end of an administration and was widely derided at the time - but who is now having a bit of a rehabilitation (by Dominic Sandbrook, for example). Jimmy Carter from the same era in the US has seen his reputation improve significantly.

I know I am in a tiny minority in saying this, but Brown and his team held things together at a time when I am not sure we realised fully how bad the situation had become. It's worth running a little thought experiment - what if it was Cameron and Osborne in Downing Street as Lehman Brothers imploded?

Metatone said...

@Anonymous - Alex Harrowell has a good post on this - over at A Fistful of Euros... March 23 - The Case for Balls.

Fundamentally, somehow the British media & political class basically live in denial that there was a real crisis and so don't recognise the value that Brown and others in government at the time brought to the stabilisation of the situation.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a fan of Brown but the way some commentators despised him was way over the top. Perhaps he did something to upset the political establishment that the public were unaware of.


G. Tingey said...

Not gone far enough back
Try Anthony Eden!