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BBC TwoNewsnight
Last Updated: Monday, 25 September 2006, 15:12 GMT 16:12 UK
'Voters prefer Reid to Brown' - focus group
Gordon Brown has not emerged as the voters' favoured future prime minister in research by the US pollster Frank Luntz, commissioned by BBC Newsnight.

John Reid and Gordon Brown

Instead the research, broadcast on Newsnight on BBC TWO on Monday, reveals that Home Secretary John Reid has emerged as the clear favourite amongst the group of voters questioned.

The participants were presented with biographies, speeches and interviews of six potential candidates for the leadership - the Chancellor Gordon Brown; the Home Secretary John Reid; Education Secretary Alan Johnson; Alan Milburn, former health secretary; John McDonnell; and Environment Secretary David Milliband.


The findings will be viewed as significant. A year ago Frank Luntz was commissioned to do a similar piece of research for Newsnight on 30 Conservative leaning voters hours before the party conference. The winner: David Cameron.

[He] just wasn't truthful was he? You knew that really he wanted to say 'Tony mate, its over - go'
One of the participants on Gordon Brown
In this latest research carried out in September all those questioned found Mr Brown intelligent and almost none had anything to say about his performance as Chancellor.

However, in terms of style participants saw him as old, lacking charisma, a "Machiavelli". Only three of those questioned saw him as a leader.

When asked to give the first word or phrase that came to mind to describe Gordon Brown, a third of the participants mentioned either age or years of service - and always negatively.

The focus group also highlighted a perception that Gordon Brown betrayed his own leader. In a test using his interview with the BBC's Andrew Marr where he denied involvement in a political "coup", the results showed that no-one believed him.

In addition, of those questioned 10 people opposed being led by a Scotsman.

Reid 'action, not talk'

Home Secretary John Reid emerged from the exercise as the clear favourite among the group.

He's got his finger on the pulse, out there on the streets - he understands what's going on
One of the participants on John Reid
17 of those questioned at the end of the exercise said they would most like to see him as next leader of the Labour party, as opposed to three for Gordon Brown, three for John McDonnell - the leftwing Labour MP who is the only candidate to have declared his intention of standing - and none for Milburn and Miliband. None favoured Education Secretary Alan Johnson.

Although only a fraction of those questioned could name John Reid from his photograph two words came to mind as their familiarity grew: "strong" and "tough".

Those questioned thought his anti-criminal, pro-victim rhetoric showed that he genuinely listened to the public. They did not seem to mind his age and Scottish ancestry, describing him as "action, not talk."

The results of the research also showed that the focus group thought Alan Johnson had the perfect biography and real-life experience, but for almost everyone his presentation was "boring".

The research also showed that Alan Milburn's repeated references to "the public" and "the people" were not well received by the participants.

David Miliband's official photograph drew laughter from the audience - several of the participants said he looked like a Tory Boy - and the initial reaction to his defence of Tony Blair was poorly received. However, participants were surprised by his articulate defence of Labour policies and a few changed their minds. It emerged that he is likely to be a leading candidate - though not in the upcoming election.

The 30 voters were selected to represent the electorate who will decide Labour's future. One third were loyal Labourites, one third were Labour leaners. One third were floating voters who cast ballots for the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats but would consider switching to Labour if it chose the right leader. They were questioned during a three-hour session.

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