Brown government even more unpopular than Major's

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Indy Politics

Labour has failed to dent the Conservatives’ opinion poll lead as David Cameron’s party improves its ratings on the economy, according to The Independent’s latest “poll of polls”.

Gordon Brown’s government is even more unpopular than John Major’s administration before it slumped to an inevitable defeat at the 1997 election. The grim findings may embolden Labour backbenchers who are plotting another attempt to force the Prime Minister to stand down before the general election. One critic said today: “We can’t go on sleepwalking to defeat. Something has got to give.”

Last year, Labour got a five-point boost from the autumn party conference season but the latest study shows there was no similar benefit from this year’s conferences. Ministers had hoped to close the gap last month but Labour’s failure leaves them pinning their hopes for a revival on the forthcoming Pre-Budget Report, which will spell out the Government’s spending priorities.

The latest weighted average of the polls puts the Tories on 42 per cent, Labour on 28 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 18 per cent. These figures would give Mr Cameron an overall majority of 90 if repeated at a general election. Although Labour is three points up on the previous month, the Tories are also up three, so Labour has made no inroads into its 14-point lead.

Labour is less popular than the Major government at the same stage of the electoral cycle. It averaged 30 per cent in surveys taken between the 1996 Tory conference and the end of October that year.

John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, who compiled the “poll of polls,” said: “Labour must be increasingly concerned that too many voters have fallen out of love with the party for too long for it to have much hope of making a significant recovery between now and a general election that has to be held within eight months.”

This year’s conferences did not appear to have any real impact on the relative standing of the three main parties, said Professor Curtice. “The battle for economic competence is still clearly being won by the Conservatives,” he added. “Indeed, if anything they are becoming increasingly successful in persuading the public they are the better economic managers. It seems as though the Tories’ focus at their conference on how they would handle the debt crisis and the economy did them no harm at all. It is difficult to see how Labour will succeed in narrowing the Tory lead unless it can reverse this perception.”

The crumb of comfort for Labour is that the Tories have not regained the popularity ratings they enjoyed last year. Between May and September last year, Mr Cameron’s party averaged 44 per cent in the “poll of polls.”

Professor Curtice said: “David Cameron must still be concerned that he has still not ‘sealed the deal’ with sufficient voters so that Labour could not at least claw its way back to hung-parliament territory.”

One explanation for that could be damage suffered by the controversy over MPs’ expenses. However, support for minor parties appears to have declined and has almost returned to its level before the European Parliament elections in June, when UKIP and the British National Party gained ground.

But there is little sign of a boost for the BNP following the appearance of its leader Nick Griffin on BBC TV’s “Question Time” programme. Two surveys conducted since do not suggest it had a positive impact, although a third did suggest the party had gone up from two to four per cent.

Brown allies dismissed speculation of another coup attempt, pointing out that the Prime Minister saw off two previous rebellions last summer and this June. But his critics plan to field a “Brown must go” candidate against Tony Lloyd, a loyalist who comes up for re-election as chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party later this month.