The Washington polling guru who helped resurrect Bill Clinton's US presidency has told PRWeek it is not too late for Gordon Brown to dramatically repair his reputation and win the next general election.
Mark Penn, global CEO of Burson-Marsteller, was called in by the then President Clinton in 1994, after his approval ratings sank to an all-time low. Penn helped devise a strategy that delivered Clinton a second presidential term in 1996.
With most of the political world braced for a Conservative Party government after the general election, Penn said Brown could still avoid a crushing defeat at the polls - if he followed the right PR strategy.
'I think Brown is in a situation where he could win,' said Penn. He noted that, in the US in 1994, '65 per cent said they would never vote for Clinton, and yet two years later he won by a virtual landslide'. He added: 'Voters can and do take a second and even third look at their leaders. Tory leader David Cameron has hit a barrier, and a lot of lapsed Labour voters are undecided - they can't bring themselves to go back to the Conservatives.'
Penn, who has also worked for Hillary Clinton and Tony Blair, said the Prime Minister needed to define what he stood for: 'People are confused after Blair just what Brown stands for in values terms - is he the traditional Labour politician people thought he was?'
He added that Brown's 'fair deal' rhetoric could yet work - if he was able to connect it to voter aspirations. 'He has to have a programme that shows the best days of being a leader are ahead of him, and define what a fair deal means in this economy and in these changing times.'
A full interview with Penn will be published in PRWeek next week.
News editor's opinion, page 24
PENN'S KEY MOMENTS
2008: Resigns as chief strategist for Hillary Clinton's failed bid for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, after it emerges he is helping Colombia lobby for a trade deal that Clinton opposes
2005: Helps Tony Blair win an historic third term, devising the 'Forward, Not Back' election slogan
2000: Plays key role in President Bill Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign by successfully targeting niche swing voters.