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Britain's Labour poll rating hits 20-year low

Reuters | October 25 2006

Voter support for British Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour Party has fallen to its lowest level in nearly two decades with the opposition Conservatives holding a strong lead, a poll showed on Wednesday.

The survey makes grim reading for Labour parliamentarians, anxious about uncertainty over the Labour leadership, violence in Iraq and voter disillusionment with the state of the public services, despite massive investment.

If the trend is repeated in future polls, it could prompt fresh rumblings about how long Blair can remain as premier after he said he would step down next year.

Only 29 percent of voters supported Labour, while 39 percent backed the Conservatives, the ICM poll for the Guardian newspaper said.

Analysts, however, said they would need to see more polls giving the Conservatives a strong lead before assuming this was a trend, given that recent surveys by other pollsters had given the Conservatives a smaller lead over Labour or shown them level.

If the ICM result was mirrored in the next general election, expected in 2009, the Conservatives would only end up as the largest party in a hung parliament or with a very slim majority, the Guardian said.

The distribution of parliamentary seats across Britain traditionally favors Labour.

Many analysts believe the Conservatives should be scoring consistent large leads of 10 or 15 percentage points over Labour given Blair's troubles.

Nevertheless, the Conservatives appear resurgent under new leader David Cameron and have their best shot at power for years while Labour is dogged by questions over its next leader.

The prime minister was forced earlier this year to say he would step down within 12 months as a long-standing private row over the Labour leadership burst out into the open.

Finance minister Gordon Brown is widely expected to take over from Blair although some parliamentarians are holding out hope that an alternative candidate will stand against him.

The ICM poll showed that many voters believe Blair has wasted billions of pounds on the National Health Service without producing major improvements.

In the poll, 72 percent said "a lot" of the money spent on the NHS since 1997 had been used badly.

Labour is also struggling because of violence in Iraq that is strengthening opposition to the handling of the war, which most Britons opposed before it started.

"I suspect it (the poll) is partly a reflection of difficulties reported in Iraq recently," said Justin Fischer, a political analyst at Brunel University.

Labour faces a key test in May at local council elections, which voters could use to make a protest against nearly a decade of Blair's government while Cameron must also show he has improved the Conservatives' appeal.

Labour's rating equaled its lowest level in a Guardian/ICM poll recorded in May 1987, one month before then Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher won a third term in office.


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