Labour poll brings comfort to struggling Tories

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THE TORIES will do better than forecast in the European elections on Thursday and could hold as many as 20 of their 32 seats, according to a private opinion survey carried out for the Labour Party.

Such a result would relieve the pressure on John Major, and suggest that his campaign strategy has been successful in offsetting the worst of the Government's unpopularity.

With the poll underlining the damage done to the Tories by splits over Europe, John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, yesterday appeared to distance himself from Europhobe interpretations of Mr Major's vision of a 'multi-speed' Europe. But Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, strongly supported Mr Major in a consciously 'Gaullist' speech. Mr Heseltine told a London election rally: 'Everyone else in Europe has exactly the same attitude. They are all working for their own self-interest. It is their national self-interest that is the driving conviction that takes them into the heart of Europe.'

The poll, leaked last night by senior Labour sources, has to be treated with caution since it is clearly in the party's interests to damp down the expectations of an electoral massacre created by published polls. And the result would still be a bad blow to the Tories.

But the poll, based on the weighted findings of an NOP telephone survey of 1,000 people at the weekend, is not notably out of line with 'guesstimates' in Conservative Central Office that the Tories could hold between 15 and 20 seats. But it is sharply out of line with a Gallup poll for the Daily Telegraph today, which shows Labour at 53.5 per cent, the Tories at 23 per cent and the Liberal Democrats at 19.

More than 60 per cent in the Labour poll saw Labour as united and only 11 per cent saw the Tories as united. But the figures suggest Mr Major's emphasis on a 'multi-speed' EU - and possibly even his highly publicised attack on begging - have had a measure of success in solidifying the core Tory vote.