Paddy's single-figure low in opinion poll

The Liberal Democrats last night dismissed as a "freak" their lowest opinion poll rating of the general election campaign, writes Stephen Castle.

But today's MORI poll, which puts Paddy Ashdown's party in single figures, will have sent alarm bells through the Liberal Democrat high command because their rating usually rises during a campaign.

Senior Labour figures believe that they are picking up many Liberal Democrat supporters, as the general election battle shapes up into a presidential- style contest between John Major and Tony Blair.

But the Liberal Democrats said the poll findings were not supported by their experience on the ground.

A party spokeswoman said: "This poll is contrary to all the evidence we are getting from canvas returns and polling in target seats. It must be a freak."

The party's campaign manager, Lord Holme, claimed yesterday that they are ahead in Harrogate ,where the Conservative candidate is Norman Lamont, the former Chancellor.