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BBC political correspondent Nicholas Jones
"Tony Blair cannot help but be pleased with these results"
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Saturday, 10 March, 2001, 22:34 GMT
Boost for early election
News Online 1000 poll graphic
By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder

Most voters believe the general election should go ahead on 3 May despite the foot-and-mouth crisis, an opinion poll suggests.

The spread of the disease had prompted speculation that Prime Minister Tony Blair might have to avoid going to the country in May, on what is widely believed to be the favoured date for the election.

An ICM poll carried out for BBC News Online suggests that voters want the election to be held sooner rather than later, irrespective of the foot and mouth crisis.

A total of 63% of those questioned said the election should go ahead on that day no matter what the status on foot and mouth was - even 58% of Tories agreed - while only 28% disagreed.

Most also believe the government should be doing more to help farmers hit by the foot and mouth crisis, even though the majority also overwhelmingly believe the government is doing the right things to combat the disease.

The strong support for a 3 May poll suggests voters may already be getting fed up with the phoney campaign and indicates that election fatigue could easily set in if Mr Blair delays.

Who best for prime minister?

The poll also suggests that Tony Blair is still seen as the best prime minister for the country.

In the wake of Gordon Brown's budget, he has even increased his popularity at the expense of William Hague.

A total of 47% polled said they believed he would make the best prime minister, up 8%, compared to just 14% for William Hague, down 8% on last months BBC News Online poll.

Make Best Prime Minister
Tony Blair 47%

William Hague 14%

Charles Kennedy 13%

Other 7%

Don't Know 19%

Source: ICM poll for BBC News Online

Mr Hague is now only 1% ahead of Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy.

The figures will prove grim reading for Mr Hague, showing the government is ahead of the Tories on every issue apart from asylum seekers.

And, despite Labour's great fear that voter apathy could do them damage at the next election, a massive 94% of Labour supporters claim they will probably turn out on polling day.

The poll was taken between last Thursday and Saturday and suggests the government is benefiting from a post-budget feel good factor.

The results will add to speculation that the prime minister will call a spring election, with 3 May still the most likely date.

The poll sees Labour leading the Tories in almost every area - even those seen as traditional Conservative territory such as crime and Europe.

And on the evidence of the poll there is little reason for the prime minister to hold back.

Labour ahead on issues

In the key areas of the health, education, crime, Europe and transport, Labour is in the lead while the Tories are actually losing ground.

A total of 45% trust the government on the NHS, an increase of 4% since February, compared to just 14% for the Tories, a slump of 10% on the previous BBC News Online survey.

On education, 44% trust Labour, up just 1%, while only 17% back the Tories, another slide of 8%.

Despite serious fears over rising violent crime, the government is still trusted most on law and order with 35% support, up 2%. This compares to 22% for the Tories, a drop of 5%.

Perhaps most surprisingly, 34% think Labour can best protect Britain in the EU compared to 30% for the Tories, a slide of 7% for William Hague who has been desperate to turn the election campaign into a virtual referendum on Europe.

A total of 36%, up 4%, trust Labour on transport, compared to 10%, down 4%, for the Tories.

Asylum policy

The government loses out on asylum seekers, the issue which has seen William Hague accused of whipping up nationalistic sentiments.

But even there the lead is narrow with only 28% backing the Tories and 26% Labour. Some 14% believe the Liberal Democrats have the best policies to deal with asylum seekers.

But a significant 24% say they don't know which party has the best policies on this issue.

It is highly likely that the good showing for Labour is down to the Budget - something Chancellor Gordon Brown was setting out to achieve.

ICM interviewed 1032 adults aged 18+ via the Internet and by telephone between the 8th and 10th March 2001. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.

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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See also:

17 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Labour leads poll on the issues
15 Feb 01 | Business
UK voters' plea for public services
10 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Voters give thumbs up to Budget
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