Voters prefer Reid to Brown

John Reid has emerged as the voters’ preferred choice for future prime minister, with new research finding respect for his “tough” approach.

Gordon Brown has been hotly tipped as Tony Blair’s successor since the prime minister was forced to say he would leave Downing Street within a year following a bout of party infighting over his resignation date.

However, research commissioned by Newsnight and carried out by Frank Luntz shows voters view the chancellor as lacking charisma.

All of the respondents, who were interviewed in September, said they found Mr Brown intelligent and almost none made any comments about how he had performed as chancellor.

But they criticised him for seeming old and lacking charisma, with one describing him as a “Machiavelli”.

All 30 members of the focus group felt Mr Brown had betrayed Mr Blair, with all recipients doubting his denials that he had attempted a political “coup” to force the prime minister to step down.

Only three respondents – who were provided with biographies, speeches and interviews of six potential leadership candidates – saw Mr Brown as a leader.

In contrast, 17 said they would like to see John Reid as leader of the Labour party.

One participant said of the home secretary: “He’s got his finger on the pulse, out there on the streets – he understands what’s going on.”

They described him as “strong” and “tough”, praising his approach to crime, especially his pro-victim rhetoric – after Mr Blair promised to “rebalance our criminal justice system in favour of the victim” – saying it showed that he genuinely listened to the public.

Unlike with Mr Brown, the voters did not mind his age or Scottish nationality – when asked about Brown ten people said they would rather not be led by a Scot – describing Mr Reid as “action, not talk”.

Other potential candidates were the leftwing MP John McDonnell who received three votes; and Alan Milburn, environment secretary David Miliband and education secretary Alan Johnson who all received no votes.

The participants were chosen to represent the electorate, and included loyal Labourites, Labour leaners and those who had voted for the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats but would consider switching to Labour if it chose the right leader.

Last year, Mr Luntz correctly predicted that David Cameron would succeed as Tory leader.