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A PR Exercise May 19

Monday’s opinion poll in the Guardian shows that a large proportion of people think the Prime Minister should stand down before the next election. This isn’t surprising: the Government misled the electorate over tuition fees, continues to support the Tories’ Council Tax system, and, most significantly, backed America’s deeply divisive war in Iraq.

But Tony Blair’s party won only 40.7% of the vote in the 2001 general election. So, even then, 59.3% of voters didn’t want him to be Prime Minister (and that’s not including the Labour Party voters who didn’t want him as their leader). Take a poll of the general population and you should expect to find that most people don’t support the Government – not because they have withdrawn their support since 2001, but because the Government never had the support of the majority of the country. Even in 1997, when Labour swept to power on a legendary tidal wave of popular support, only 43.2% of voters backed them – 56.8% were against.

Although I would like to see MPs elected by a system of proportional representation, that’s not my main point here. Rather, it’s that opinion polls showing that a majority of people (and the 46% in the Guardian isn’t even a majority) oppose either Tony Blair or the Government should be taken with a pinch of salt, since the Labour Party was opposed by a majority of voters at the last General Election and still runs the country. More significant are voting intention polls and polls establishing the public’s views on specific individual issues, although even with these it’s important to know what questions were asked. But revealing that the PM doesn’t have the backing of most of the population isn’t news.

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