Alex Massie

Gordon Brown is a Rescue Donkey

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Brother Liddle asks "Why is it unravelling for Dave?" and, while this may be a mild exaggeration, it's true that, in as much as he can ever look jaunty, there's a spring in Gordon's step right now. Perhaps, Labourites dare to dream, the worst is over? Maybe. One poll showing the Tory lead cut to just six points is a pretty shoogly nail upon which to hang your hopes. Nevertheless, the story of the day is this alleged mini-revival. In the end it may be no more than a dead cat bounce, but, just for a moment, let's assume it's not. So, how to explain it?

Firstly, Labour's core vote may be firming up. Some waverers have returned to the comfort of the fold. Secondly, this mini-revival, if it even exists, is a proof of Gordon's predicament, not proof that the worst is past. People have moved beyond anger and into pity. There is such a thing as a Sympathy Vote and we may be seeing it here.

That's why, as Danny Finkelstein says, the Tories new "Jedward" poster is a mistake. It's entirely negative, not terribly funny and, worst of all, snide and superior. And that's the third reason why there may be a tiny Labour revival: Tory complacency and the assumption that the election is in the bag and its just a matter of going through the motions between now and election day when, after 13 long years, the British people will (at last!) wake up and remember that the Tory party is the natural party of government and all will be restored and renewed and well with the world.

Not so fast say the people! We ain't had our say yet. And, while, sure, there aren't too many compelling arguments for voting Labour one of the better ones is that the Tories (or their supporters in the media) seem to be taking the electorate for granted. Now I'm sure CCHQ would dispute this but the fact remains that many Tory cheerleaders do think it's all over even though it isn't. Not quite anyway.

Fourthly, as Rod says, some voters may well be persuaded by Mandelson's suggestion that while Labour may prune public spending too, the Tories will relish, not regret, taking an axe to the public sector. (The merits of that are a different matter). The Tories are a bit like Walter Mondale in 1984: "Let's tell the truth. Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won't tell you. I just did." Even if true, that's not necessarily the sort of truth the public wants to hear.

Fifth, and related to the previous point, the Tories are running a sunshine-free campaign at the moment. Everything is broken about Britain and everything needs to be ripped up and changed. (Just don't ask for too many details, ok?) Cameron's speech to the party conference was bleaker than it needed to be and seemed deliberately downbeat. A little optimism or recognition that, mercifully, the Daily Mail's view of Britain is a cartoon, would not go amiss.

Sixth, the more the Tories personalise the election and make it about Gordon the more they may come across as a bunch of snooty toffs bullying the unhappy, friendless, blind lad from Kirkcaldy. Some voters - especially women? - may think, "Well, yes, we know he's hopeless but the poor man is doing his best."

Bottom line: There are a lot of people in this country who give money to donkey sanctuaries and pet rescue homes and while this may not be the demographic Labour would choose to target, it's one the Tories might be alienating.

None of this may be enough to save Labour but it might be enough to make a Tory victory less certain or less comprehensive than it might be. Labour's mini-revival may be short-lived but, right now, these are some of the reasons that might help explain it. If it exists at all, that is. It's the sympathy vote, stupid and Gordon is, pitifully, a rescue donkey.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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