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 A/V REPORTS
University of Strathclyde, Prof John Curtice
"The public are relatively sceptical about many of the promises that both of the main political parties have made"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 29 May, 2001, 18:25 GMT 19:25 UK
Labour stretches lead
The latest state of play in the opinion polls
David Cowling

The ICM Guardian poll puts Labour on 47% (up 2% on a week ago), the Conservatives at 28% (down 4%) and the Lib Dems unchanged at 17%. A Labour lead of 19%.

Just over a week away from the general election, this is the poll the Conservatives could really have done without.

ICM is the polling company that regularly provides results that are least favourable to Labour and yet here they are registering a 6% increase in that party's lead.

The last time an ICM survey put Conservative support as low as 28% was May 1999.

The latest state of play in the opinion polls
During the 1997 election campaign, some 45 opinion polls were published and 13 of them placed Conservative support below 30% (their lowest rating was 27% in one poll).

Some 18 polls have been published so far in this campaign and three of them have put the Conservatives below 30% (their lowest rating so far has been 26% in a MORI poll for the Economist).

So, the current campaign has a lower ratio of Conservative poll ratings below 30% than four years ago.

At one level this is obviously encouraging news for the party, but there is a difference in the two circumstances: four years ago the Conservatives were the defending Government, now they are the attacking opposition.

Health top priority

The poll suggests that the Conservative campaign against the euro has not made a great impact on public opinion.

ICM asked respondents to rank eleven key election issues in terms of importance and they found the euro ranked 11th (40% chose it) and the issue of asylum ranked as 9th (52% chose it).

The three top priorities were health (89%), crime (82%) and education (81%).

As the two main parties seem wedded to campaign grids - schedules designed before the campaign began which determine when the parties will tackle given subjects and issues - it may be that the consequence is a degree of inflexibility.

This poll suggests that the Conservatives have turned their fire away from issues that engage majority opinion, towards one with a more narrow focus.

Nobody doubts that the euro provokes passion but what the evidence of this poll does question is whether that passion is shared by enough people to win the next general election.

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