Tory governments age well in the memory. Labour governments turn sour.

This article originally appeared on Political Betting

No recent Prime Minister was popular as they approached the end of their time in power. Each of the last five had net satisfaction scores – the proportion satisfied minus the proportion dissatisfied – of well below minus 20 points during their final month, according to MORI’s satisfaction data.

Thatcher was the most unpopular, with 71% dissatisfied with the job she was doing. The least unpopular was Gordon Brown, who still had the support of 35% before the 2010 election.

If it seems surprising that the Scotsman was less reviled than the others, that’s because of what’s happened after his defeat.

In the time since each Prime Minister left office, the collective memory of their effectiveness has been transformed. This week’s Opinium poll for the PB / Polling Matters podcast found that Thatcher has gone from being the least popular recent Prime Minister, when she left office, to the most popular now.

Over the same time, Blair and Brown have gone from the Prime Ministers with the joint-highest satisfaction scores (along with Major) as they were leaving Downing Street, to being seen as the ones that did the worst job.

With Cameron moving up the ranking, the picture is clear – Tory governments are remembered increasingly well over time, while Labour governments become less popular.

The reason for this is Labour voters. While current Tory voters have views that you’d expect – overwhelmingly believing Tory Prime Ministers did a good job and thinking the opposite of Labour ones – Labour voters are more reluctant to support their party’s leaders.

Only one in three thinks Blair did a good job (he’s more popular among Lib Dems) while even fewer think the same of Gordon Brown.

This ambivalence does Labour no good. Tory voters can draw on several examples of what they consider successful Prime Ministers from their side. If even the currently diminished ranks of Labour voters don’t believe that past Labour governments were worthwhile, it’s hard to see who will resist the accusation that Labour administrations spend too much for too little benefit.

There are many reasons that Labour supporters might come up with to justify their doubts about Blair and Brown’s governments. But Tory voters have forgotten their previous reservations about the woman who left office as the least popular Prime Minister in recent history. If Labour is to become an election-winning machine again, it will need to do the same for its own past leaders.


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