Election '97: They think that it's not all over ...

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The Independent Online
John Major yesterday used The Independent's survey of Tory constituencies to repudiate the polls, while senior Labour sources accepted their lead was not as great as the pollsters had been saying.

Both party leaders are now placing Europe at the head of their campaign agenda, claiming high poll ratings on the emotive subject, but it was The Independent's survey of constituencies that concentrated minds on the uncertain state of the campaign.

Mr Major told sixth-form pupils at Leeds Grammar School that the opinion polls were nonsensical. Challenged to say whether he believed genuinely that the Tories could win the election after trailing so far behind Labour, Mr Major said: "Yep, I do."

He said: "The Independent interestingly enough actually chose to go out to the marginal seats, knock on a few doors and talk to people itself rather than just rely on opinion polls.

"Everyone will find out on May 1, but I can tell you I've fought quite a few elections now and what is happening on the doorstep is not reflected in the opinion polls.

"The polls are rubbish. Four days before the last election all the polls showed me behind by 7 to 10 per cent. I actually won by 7 per cent."

Senior Labour sources said last night that The Independent findings did not unduly concern them, as their own polling suggested a lead of "more than 10 points, but less than 20".

"We err on the side of caution and we have never said that our lead was anything like the 20 or 25 per cent that some of the pollsters have been saying," he said.

Labour's own research suggests that support is holding up well in key marginals.

However, the research also shows that the party's commitment to hold a referendum on a single currency was not getting through. "The trouble about Europe is that, until now, people have only followed it as a matter of Tory division," said one leadership aide.

"Our hope is that people will take more notice during the last week of the campaign and our message will get across.

"One area where we have been pleasantly surprised is in the support we appear to be getting from older people.

"But we feel we still have to do more work on getting young people to vote.

"At the moment, they switch on their television - especially the BBC - and they just see politicians slagging each other off and that promotes the feeling that all politicians are as bad as each other."

One Conservative campaign manager said earlier that Europe was providing the party with its biggest lead among the voters, which explained why the Prime Minister was so willing to divert from a press conference on grammar schools to talk about Europe yesterday.

Mr Major told his main election press conference: "I think the honest heart of the Conservative Party beats in tune with the heart of the British nation."