Election '97: Mandelson breaks rules to boast victory for Labour

Click to follow
Peter Mandelson broke the politicians' cardinal rule yesterday when he used opinion-poll evidence to back claims that Labour was heading for victory.

In a rare public statement, the party's campaign manager took a risk that no leading figure has yet taken during this election. In promoting the importance of the current, positive opinion polls, he left his party exposed on the issue of what to say when they are negative. The usual line is that the only poll that matters is the one on 1 May.

"Labour is in an exceptionally strong position. We are not only broadly maintaining our lead in the polls but, more interestingly, we are consolidating our position in the real election campaign.

"A poll last week revealed that 84 per cent identify with Labour's message that 'Britain Deserves Better'. Only 8 per cent believe that 'Britain is Booming'," Mr Mandelson said.

With weekend polls putting Labour's lead at between 16 and 20 per cent, pollsters' predictions that the gap between the parties would narrow gradually appear to be being borne out.

One leading pundit said in a television interview yesterday that on current predictions Labour can expect to have a 9 point lead over the Conservatives on polling day - enough to give the party an overall majority of 145.

While the Conservatives take comfort from the fact that the polls got it wrong in 1992, and from the fact that their share of the vote has grown in the past few weeks, few commentators believe they can make up the difference in the time left.

Bob Worcester, chairman of MORI, said on the BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme yesterday that the Tories' share had risen from 29 per cent to 32 per cent since the campaign began. If that continued, by polling day Labour would have 44 per cent of the vote, the Conservatives 35 per cent and the Liberal Democrats 13 per cent.

However, he added that he did not believe this would happen. "I think it will be more narrow than that, as the public focus on whether they want a majority the size of Mrs Thatcher's," he said.

Labour's lead throughout this election campaign has been far higher than in previous years. In 1987, the Tories were between 4 and 14 points ahead and eventually won with an 11.8 per cent lead. In 1992, the polls varied between a 5 per cent lead for the Conservatives and a 6 per cent lead for Labour, but the Tories won with a 7.6 per cent lead.

This time, with the polls adjusted to take into account their bias towards Labour in 1992, the lowest Labour lead so far has been 12 points, and the highest 27. Even a 12-point lead would end in a landslide bigger than the one in 1945, when Labour had a majority of 146.

David Cowling, a political analyst with Harris, said: "It was always likely that the gap would narrow ... and the polls seem to be supporting this.

"It is equally unlikely that the gap would narrow sufficiently to save the Conservatives."