Archive for September, 2010

Everybody hates Tony

23 September 2010

Tony Blair has been in the news a lot recently with TV appearances, his book and the abandoned book tour.  Given the reception given in the media and by angry anti-Blairites, it is hardly surprising that many people assume that the book is all ‘self-serving and dishonest‘ – this is the wording of the question not a spontaneous statement and the poll was taken the day that the book came out (37% agreed with that statement, 31% didn’t know).

Alex Massie has written a piece for Foreign Policy entitled ‘Everybody hates Tony: How Britain’s golden boy lost his luster’, which describes the remarkable shift in opinion since 2003 to the point that “Blair’s name is mud on the eastern side of the Atlantic. The former prime minister has been entirely disowned.” Although he rightly points out that the visceral Blair-hatred is a minority sport, he still makes out as if the ex-PM is universally disliked. Polling data show, though, that he is divisive rather than hated and disowned.

A recent Yougov/Sun poll* shows that opinion on Blair is largely unchanged since he left office in 2007. People’s opinions of his premiership were recorded as follows (this is a shortened form of the stated responses):

Very Good (VG): fallen from 11% in 2007 to 10% in Sept 2010

Fairly Good (FG): 38% to 37%

Fairly Poor (FP): 28% to 21%

Very Poor (VP): 18% to 25%

In total, then, 47% think he was a good PM and 46% that he was poor (2007: 49% and 46%). What the figures says to me is that he is slightly less popular than in 2007, but that those who disapprove have got angrier since 2007. The 7% increase in 2010’s ‘very poor’ presumably coming from the ‘fairly poor’ column in 2007. Blair has not been completely disowned.  He is not popular or broadly hated, he divides opinion.

The idea that Labour voters hate him is also not borne out, despite the current Labour leadership contenders trying to distance themselves from Blair.  Figures for Labour voters were 22% VG, 58% FG, 11% FP and 7%VP; that is to say that 80% of Labour voters think that he was a good PM. Of course, this does not mean they want a Blairite leader now, but that they think that ‘he had many successes’ or ‘his successes outnumbered his failures’. Meanwhile 70% of Conservatives saw him as FP or VP, which is hardly surprising. Massie’s comment that the Guardian-reading Left-ish ‘chattering classes’ are the most anti-Blair are certainly accurate, but he neglects the evidence that many people, especially Labour voters still feel he did a good job.

Further evidence that he is divisive rather than hated comes from the Yougov question over who was the ‘Best’ and ‘Worst’ post-1945 PM to serve for more than 5 years. Margaret Thatcher topped both polls with 36% best and 31% worst, while Blair came a close second at 20% and 25%. (The others were Wilson, Attlee, Macmillan and Major; over 20% didn’t know in each poll). Again there was a party split between Thatcher and Blair, but their placement clearly shows that they occupy a much greater and more complex position in the public mind than other prime ministers.

Interestingly, given that the anger against Blair is widely seen as based on his policy of war in Iraq, the poll shows that more people (in all age groups over 25 years, but especially the over 60s) felt that his immigration policy was a greater mistake (62%) than the war in Iraq (54%). A poll in 2007 showed the same result (58% to 55%).

Yougov’s poll trackers also suggest that disapproval of Blair did not come as a result of the failure to find WMD in Iraq (as Massie states), but it was already there in February 2003 – suggesting that the feeling grew over the Iraq debacle well before the war began. A BBC graph shows opinion dipping in early 2000 and late 2002. Yougov stats show dissatisfaction with him fluctuating between 57% and 63% in 2003 (the BBC graph shows a wartime blip, the ‘rally round the flag’ is a widly-recognised response to wars), and in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

The BBC graph (using MORI polling):

No doubt Iraq was the cause of this solid body of dislike, but it came during the build-up to the war and was only confirmed by the growing evidence of Blair’s misleading of the public (and it was not unprecedented). Today, poll questions on the evidence for a rightness of war are phrased to acknowledge the dodgy grounds for war.  Even at the time a narrow majority of people felt that Blair was handling the situation badly (see stats quoted in this amusing attempt to show how great Blair was).

Contrary to the impression sometimes given in the press and on TV – and by noisy protesters – most people do not think that Blair is a war criminal.  He has not been completely disowned by his former-voters, even if they would not necessarily trust him (or people seen to be like him) again.  He is, however, a hugely divisive figure – apparently nearing a par with Margaret Thatcher – on both his domestic and foreign policy legacy.

* The report of the yougov poll states different figures than the data they provide on pdf, and didn’t terms, which is rather confusing.  My figures come from the pdf, not their report.