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Wednesday, 8 August, 2001, 12:22 GMT 13:22 UK
Low turnout cut Labour's landslide
Tony Blair celebrates his second election victory outside Millbank
Labour's landslide could have been 20-25 seats greater
A BBC opinion poll suggests that Labour's landslide election victory would have been even greater if more people had turned out to vote.

It had previously been thought that the Conservatives had suffered more from the record breaking low turnout at the June election.

The idea that there is a hidden army of Tory voters ... has simply been put to bed

ICM's Martin Boon
The poll, conducted by ICM for BBC Radio 4's Today programme found that 53% of those quizzed who failed to turn out said they would have voted Labour.

This compares with 19% who said they would have backed William Hague's Conservative Party, 14% for the Liberal Democrats and 13% for the other parties.

Backing the winner

On this basis it is estimated that a higher turnout could have boosted Labour's 167 majority to around 200, or even as high as 215.

Poll graph
Speaking for ICM, Martin Boon did acknowledge that there is a tendency among people to back the winner after an election, but insisted that this did not affect the overall findings of the poll.

But Mr Boon said: "There's no getting round a deficit of 19%-53%."

One thousand and eight people were used as a basis for the survey.

Mr Boon added that: "The idea that there is a hidden army of Tory voters ... has simply been put to bed."

'Gloomy message'

Reacting to the survey, the shadow foreign secretary Francis Maude told BBC News that the poll presented a "gloomy message that I fully accept".

But he said that people did not like politics generally as it was, and argued there is no great enthusiasm for the Labour Party.
Francis Maude, shadow foreign secretary
Maude accepts the 'gloomy message'

He said: "There is a real need for the Conservative Party to change itself very dramatically if it is to have any chance of winning the next general election."

Looking towards the Tory leadership election he said: "Whoever wins this has a heavy burden on them to turn this round - it is not going to be easy."

Voter mistrust

But Bob Spink, one of the few Conservatives to win back a seat from Labour at the election, took a different view.

2001 general election results
Labour 413
Conservative 166
Liberal Democrat 52
He topped the poll in Castle Point, Essex by just 985 votes and the poll indicates his victory could have been under threat if more voters had turned out.

Mr Spink said: "This is nothing but Today programme bias towards the Conservative Party."

The Tory MP argued the public's increasing mistrust of the government, especially of Tony Blair, was responsible for the low turnout.

Winning them back

And former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine argued the Conservatives could win back many of those who stayed at home.

"A lot of those people who didn't vote would in previous elections have voted Conservative," he said.

"This time they didn't, for a variety of reasons, one of which is that they didn't find the Labour Party off-putting.

Poll projection results
Labour 441
Conservative 134
Lib Dem 56
Projections include non-voters quizzed by ICM
"So they are prepared to say that, if forced to vote, they would vote Labour or Liberal Democrat, but I think a lot of them are potential returnees to the Tory Party.

"Indeed, without them there is going to be no Tory government."

Projections from the poll suggest the Lib Dems would have won four more seats if more people had voted.

Their youth affairs spokesman, Lembit Opik, said: "The turnout at the election was disappointing and it is vital that all parties now work together to address the very serious issue of voter apathy."

Shadow foreign secretary Francis Maude
"People are fed up with politics"
Lord Heseltine, former Deputy Prime Minister
"It doesn't surprise me"
See also:

08 Jun 01 | Vote2001
Labour romps home again
08 Jun 01 | Vote2001
Hague to step down
08 Aug 01 | Vote2001
Turnout at 80-year low
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