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Saturday, 17 February, 2001, 20:01 GMT
Labour leads poll on the issues

By BBC News Online's John Walton

With the election dominating the political horizon Labour is running well ahead of the Conservatives in the race to win public support on key campaign issues such as health and education, according to a new ICM poll for BBC News Online.

Crucially, the BBC News Online 1000 also suggests that Tony Blair's New Labour Party is still pushing ahead of the Tories on both the economy and crime - areas in which the Tories would traditionally hope to poll strongly.

Even more worrying for William Hague is the revelation that his party only comes out on top on just one of the six issues put to the sample group.

When more than 1,000 people were quizzed for their policy preferences over the internet the Conservatives were ahead only on Europe, leaving the field to Labour on health, education, the economy, transport and crime.

Click here for poll results in depth

Labour's lead over the Tories is strongest on health (41% to 24%) and education (43% to 25%). Both are long standing priorities for the party and are the beneficiaries of high profile commitment from Tony Blair.

But Mr Hague may be worried that sizeable chunks of Conservative supporters say they prefer Labour policies.

Twelve per cent back Labour on the NHS and 14% say state schools would be better off in Mr Blair's hands.

Chancellor Gordon Brown's unrelenting efforts to show himself as fiscally prudent also seem to have paid dividends, with 10% of Conservative supporters backing Labour on the economy - a core issue for the Tories - while 13% prefer Labour's policies on crime.

Tory lead on Europe

Although Europe is a key issue for the Conservatives under William Hague it will be little consolation to Tory high command that they have beaten Labour on this issue alone, as the European Union ranks well down the list with most voters when making their mind up who is best suited to occupy Number 10.

Who'd be best PM?
Tony Blair, 39%
William Hague, 22%
Charles Kennedy, 12%
When asked who would best look after Britain's interests in Europe, 37% of the News Online 1000 said the Tories, while 32% went for Labour and 9% for the Liberal Democrats.

Charles Kennedy's party came closest to capturing the public's imagination on transport. But the Lib Dems managed to convince only 13% of all those polled that they had the best policies on transport - a point behind the Conservatives. Labour, meanwhile had the support of 32% of those asked about public transport.

But gloomy news for the Liberal Democrats came in the statistic that just 12% of those asked back them on state schools - when education has been a priority for the Lib Dems under both its current leader and his predecessor Paddy Ashdown.

When asked who is best suited to be prime minister, Mr Blair comes top on 39%, with William Hague trailing behind on 22%. Charles Kennedy was preferred by 12% of the sample.

The BBC News Online 1000 will continue to give their opinions on political issues over the coming months as momentum builds towards a General Election.

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