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Tuesday, 20 February, 2001, 12:56 GMT
Poll monitor: Relief for Labour

The latest poll evidence will depress the Conservatives and cheer Labour but Tony Blair still faces an uphill struggle to motivate the voters, says BBC Political Research editor David Cowling.

The latest ICM/Guardian opinion poll published on Tuesday gives Labour 47% (up 3% on last month), the Conservatives 32% (down 2%) and the Lib Dems 15% (down 1%).

This particular poll will bring relief to Labour and gloom to the Conservatives.

As well as being the Conservative party's private pollsters, ICM have pioneered methods of correcting the over-stated Labour leads that have been a feature of the polls in recent years.

david cowling
David Cowling: increased lead significant
Last month, for example, they registered a 10% Labour lead when a number of other published polls put the lead in the region of 20%.

So, a 5% increase in Labour's lead from ICM will be regarded as significant by the political parties.

Fewer may vote

But ICM also found that respondents who said they were certain to vote had fallen by 3% compared with last month (which itself was down on those who said they were certain to vote four years ago, before the 1997 election).

Other findings suggest that Labour holds a decisive lead over the Conservatives when it comes to the best party at managing the economy and yet they face an uphill struggle to motivate the electorate.

Perhaps one clue to this problem lies in ICM's finding that a slightly higher proportion of people now expect the Tories to produce more public spending than Labour.

Sacking 'right'

Mr Blair will take some comfort from the finding that 64% of the public believe he was right to sack Peter Mandelson, compared with only 14% who thought he was wrong to do so.

Another ICM poll, published in the Scotland on Sunday newspaper, provides an up-to-date picture of Scottish public opinion.

It also reminds us that, post-devolution, politics in Scotland now operates at different speeds.

The poll's Westminster voting intention figures gave Labour 42% (down 4% on 1997) and the SNP 26% (up 4%), with the Conservatives unchanged on 17% and the Lib Dems at 10% (down 3%).

Labour lead halved

Yet the same respondents, who gave a 16% Labour lead over the SNP for Westminster, more than halved this lead to 7% when it came to a Holyrood election.

The SNP continue to snap at Labour's heels. However, we need to remember that a swing of 5% from Labour to the SNP at the next election would deliver the nationalists only two Labour seats; and a swing of 10% would increase total SNP gains from Labour to five.

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