Tories 'down to 10 seats'

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THE TORIES may struggle to push the number of their seats in the European Parliament into double figures, according to a poll this weekend.

The official results of Thursday's vote will be announced tonight, but an exit poll released yesterday shows the Conservatives could be left with just 10 of the 82 seats - a loss of 22 seats.

The findings, based on votes in London, were greeted with caution by the political parties because they probably under-represent the strength of the Liberal Democrats. But they will increase tension within the Conservative Party, which yesterday suffered a new setback as its election-long truce over Europe was broken.

The exit poll of 3,893 people, conducted by Mori for the Electoral Reform Society, gives Labour 51 per cent, the Tories 29 and the Lib Dems 13. Nationally, that would mean 69 seats for Labour, 10 for the Tories and three for the Lib Dems.

An ICM poll in the Sunday Express taken on Friday puts Labour on 45.5 per cent, the Tories on 26.5 and the Lib Dems on 19. That could mean 64 seats for Labour, 15 for the Tories, three for the Lib Dems, and 2 for the Scottish National Party.

A telephone poll by MORI conducted on Friday and Saturday for the GMB general union suggests figures which could push the Tories down to six seats with Labour winning 69, the Liberal Democrats 8 and one for the SNP.

The findings will increase pressure on John Major as Tory MPs return to Westminster this week. A meeting of the executive of the backbench 1922 Committee is expected to support Mr Major despite growing doubts about whether the party is electable with him as leader. Mr Major will use the hiatus caused by the Labour contest to attempt to revitalise his premiership with a Cabinet reshuffle, expected at the end of July.

Yesterday the former chancellor, Norman Lamont, illustrated Mr Major's problems when he broke ranks, telling the BBC: 'I don't believe among the ministers and the rulers of Europe we are winning the argument remotely.'

But Sir Edward Heath, a Euro-enthusiast, said: 'Now the time has come when we shall openly put forward the case for the European Union and its further development'.