If he believed in polls, Paddy Ashdown would consider handing over the leadership of the Liberal Democrats forthwith to Richard Branson, writes Stephen Fay. One poll this week suggests the entrepreneurial head of the Virgin Group might prove move effective at increasing the party's vote than its leader.

An IoS/Sunday Mirror MORI poll to measure the impact of celebrity on voting intentions finds that 13 per cent of electors - 5.8 million people - would be influenced by the way Branson proposes to vote. And no less than 23 per cent of Liberal Democrat voters would be influenced by Branson, although that total is modest compared to readers of the Financial Times; 36 per cent of the sample (admittedly small) say knowing the way Branson votes would influence their own choice.

The electorate appears remarkably immune to other celebrities. If Diana, Princess of Wales were to announce how she intends to vote, 4 per cent of voters might take notice. But the same proportion would be influenced by Selina Scott, the television presenter. The comedienne Dawn French would influence 3 per cent. (MORI's chairman, Robert Worcester, points out that, while the percentages do not appear large, 4 per cent translates into 1.8 million voters.)

Footballers have even less impact, which is sad news for Labour. Robbie Fowler, the Liverpool and England striker, who has declared his intention to vote Labour, would influence a meagre 1 per cent of voters. Alan Shearer of Newcastle might prove twice as influential.

Swampy, the environmental digger, may be a hero of adolescents, but his influence among voters hardly registers. Least persuasive of all is the newly married, bad-tempered singer Liam Gallagher. The pollsters also asked whether celebrities positively would not influence their vote: 97 per cent of the sample said Liam Gallagher would have no influence at all on them.

These results are based on 1,114 interviews throughout Britain on 8 April.