Election `97: Voters say Tory scare tactics are a failure

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The Independent Online
A poll which claims to be the most sophisticated barometer of voters' opinions yesterday indicted Conservative policy

The poll, which followed a cross-examination of Kenneth Clarke, Gordon Brown, and Malcolm Bruce by a panel of 300 voters, showed the Tories had failed in their scare tactics to portray Labour as " demon- eyed" punitive taxers. At the same time a dramatically increasing number would like to see the Liberal Democrats in a coalition government.

The panel was first polled in January and then yesterday afternoon at the end of a weekend seminar on the economy. Results indicate that the number who thought a Labour government would bring in high taxes has fallen from 57 per cent to 47 per cent and the proportion who thought people earning pounds 50,000 and more should pay more taxes has gone up from 66 per cent to 89 per cent.

On voting intentions on Thursday, the Tory figure fell from 26 per cent to l9 per cent. Labour also fell, from 47 per cent to 39 per cent. The clear winners were the Liberal Democrats, who rose from 11 per cent to 33 per cent. The figures for those who thought the economy would be much better off if the Lib Dems were part of a new government shot from 21 per cent to 44 per cent.

Mr Clarke was taken aback by the rough reception he was given by the panel during the recording of a state-of-the-nation programme by Channel 4.

This was in marked contrast to Mr Brown and Mr Bruce, who were listened to in respectful silence. Afterwards the Chancellor stated that he was surprised "by the level of hostility" he faced.

Mr Clarke had claimed Britain had became "a Goldilocks economy -- not too hot, and not too cold." It was booming, but not in a way it was going to go bust. But the audience dismissed his assertion that " it is a myth" that the poor are getting poorer.

They were also sceptical of his claim that his decision not to raise interest rates before the election was purely economic, and not political.

Mr Bruce set out his party's plans to increase income tax, saying "our objective is not to put a penny on income tax; it is to put money into education". Mr Brown said he hoped to cut VAT on fuel before pensioners receive bills this winter.

The panel, drawn from a cross-section of the electorate, had been briefed during the weekend by experts, neutral observers and economists sympathetic to the policies of each of the three main parties.

Their verdicts were given in Manchester last night in the show, Power and the People, hosted by Sheena McDonald. The producers claim the deliberative poll, with its in-depth study of the subject, is a far superior indicator of people's intentions than answers gleamed by ordinary pollsters.

The panel, aged 18 to 87, and living as far apart as Aberdeen and Exeter, Southend and Ynys Mon (Isle of Anglesey), was selected in January through a scientific survey to ascertain the most accurate cross-section. They had considered a wide range of financial issues, including taxation, public spending, prices, wages, and employment.

Those who acted as advisers and spokespersons included Andrew Dilnot, of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, Richard Layard, of the London School of Economics, Diane Coyle, economics editor of the Independent, and Chris Huhne, of IBCA Sovereign Ratings.