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Election '97: Labour keeps 17-point lead

The final Independent/Harris poll suggests that the widely-expecting closing of the gap in the last days of the campaign has failed to materialise, writes John Rentoul.

Labour retains a commanding 17-point lead, the sort of advantage in the polls not seen since Margaret Thatcher went to the country in 1983 after the Falklands war and won a 144-seat majority.

If translated into seats, our poll would give Tony Blair more than 400 MPs and a majority of between 173 and 179 in the Commons, although Tom Simpson, managing director of Harris Research, predicts a majority of about 99 if there are as many "shy Tories" and "late swingers" as five years ago.

The final polls from the other companies also suggest that Labour's lead is holding firm, with NOP for Reuter yesterday putting Labour 22 points ahead on 50 per cent. A surprising feature of the NOP poll is that it puts Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Party on 4 per cent, whereas today's Independent poll puts them on only 1 per cent.

Harris Research interviewed 1,154 adults face-to-face in their homes on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday this week. The figures exclude 14 per cent who didn't know, wouldn't say or wouldn't vote, who could not be allocated to a party on the basis of how they voted in 1992.