Alex Massie

Is Mark Penn the Dumbest Pollster on Earth?

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Possibly! Gordon Brown's government has a 17% approval rating and fewer than one in five voters think Brown would make a better Prime Minister than either David Cameron or, titter ye not, Nick Clegg. His government is in much the same place John Major's was in 1996 and we know how that ended for the Tories.

The Brown ministry has lost its mast and been holed, repeatedly, below the water line. Yet amidst the wreckage and the blood and the howls of agony one man insists that all is not lost and that, actually, victory remains possible. That man, folks, is Mark Penn, the American pollster and strategist last seen leading Hillary Clinton's glorious triumph in the 2008 Democratic Primary. Oh, hang on...

Interviewed by PR Week, Penn claims that:

‘I think Brown is in a situation where he could win,’ said Penn. He noted that, in the US in 1994, ‘65 per cent said they would never vote for Clinton, and yet two years later he won by a virtual landslide’. He added: ‘Voters can and do take a second and even third look at their leaders. Tory leader David Cameron has hit a barrier, and a lot of lapsed ­Labour voters are undecided – they can’t bring themselves to go back to the Conservatives.’

Penn, who has also worked for Hillary Clinton and Tony Blair, said the Prime Minister needed to define what he stood for: ‘People are confused after Blair just what Brown stands for in values terms – is he the traditional Labour politician people thought he was?’

He added that Brown’s ‘fair deal’ rhetoric could yet work –if he was able to connect it to voter aspirations. ‘He has to have a programme that shows the best days of being a leader are ahead of him, and define what a fair deal means in this economy and in these changing times.’

There is, literally, not a single line in this "analysis" that makes a dime's worth of sense. It's worth noting that Penn argued last year that

"These are situations that he has time to work out before a scheduled election ... Oftentimes, these [tough spots] can be a spur to taking the kind of action that's ultimately successful. There's plenty of time."

In one sense, however, Penn is correct: voters have taken a couple of looks at Gordon Brown and have decided that, poor man, they don't care for what they see. Doubtless Penn has to spout this drivel because the Labour party is squandering vast sums of money on his questionable services. Or maybe not. But still...

Questionable? Yes. Let's rewind to 2005 when, in his telling at least, Penn won the election for Tony Blair by devising the awesomely clever slogan Forward, Not Back. According to Penn,

"The frame of the campaign was 'forward not back', a line devised by me and speaking entirely to the need to focus on the future. That Blair had modernized the country, the government and the economy - and we had to keep on that path -- was the central thrust of the campaign."


Heck, Forward Not Back wasn't even as good as Ramsay Macdonald's promise of "Onward and Upward".

Then again, Gordon's campaign is going to be reminiscent of a 1996 episode of The Simpsons, in which Kang, an extra-terrestial, ran for the Presidency on the slogan "We must move forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom."

[Hat-tip: Tory Bear]

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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