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Tuesday, 3 April, 2001, 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK
Poll monitor: Labour lead grows

By BBC Political Research editor David Cowling

The ICM poll in Tuesday's Guardian puts Labour on 49% - up 5% on their previous, mid-March poll - the Conservatives on 34%, down 1%, and the Lib Dems on 13%, down 3%.

The poll was sampled before the official announcement delaying the 3 May local elections.

However, the expectation of delay was gathering momentum.

Although 56% of respondents disapproved of the government's handling of the foot-and-mouth crisis - compared with 29% who approved - the Conservatives do not seem to have benefited as a result.

No Tory surge

When asked who would make the best prime minister, only 60% of Conservative supporters nominated William Hague.

But even though they have not been able to capitalise on public discontent, nor have they really fallen back.

The increased support for Labour seems, on the surface, to have come at the expense of the Lib Dem and 'Other' parties - down 3% and 2% respectively on mid-March.

The Guardian report of the poll points out that the Lib Dem rating of 13% marks the first ICM poll since October 1997 that registers them with support below 15%.

The ICM 'variometer', which adjusts the seat forecast suggested by the poll through taking account of regional swings, comes up with an overall Labour majority of around 150 seats and the Lib Dems reduced from their current 47 seats to only 20.

Mixed messages

The MORI poll in the Sunday Telegraph sampled between 30-31 March offered mixed messages to Labour which offset some of the encouragement offered by ICM.

Labour's lead had fallen to 16% but much more worrying was the finding on economic confidence.

Whereas 13% of respondents thought the economy would improve over the next 12 months, 47% said they expected it to worsen.

However, a majority of respondents thought William Hague not trustworthy, nor in touch with what ordinary people think.

Undecided voters

Whilst 70% of Labour supporters said they had definitely decided how they would vote, the comparable figure among Conservative supporters was 65%.

And among the latter some 32% said they might change their mind before polling day.

Neither poll knocks Labour off course but the relatively calm waters of two or three months ago have become a bit choppy.

The next few published polls may help us discover whether Mr Blair's decision to delay the local and general elections to June has sufficiently placated public opinion to allow normal politics to be resumed.

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See also:

29 Mar 01 | Talking Politics
Poll monitor: Labour lead continues
21 Mar 01 | Talking Politics
Poll monitor: Labour dips
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