The Labour Party would do much better at the general election with Gordon Brown as leader rather than Tony Blair, according to an opinion poll by NOP for The Independent.
If Mr Brown were leader, 48 per cent of people say they would vote Labour, some 11 percentage points more than those saying they will support the party on May 5. The survey suggests that, under Mr Blair, Labour is in course to win a majority of 122. But under Mr Brown, it could expect its majority to rise to 234.
The poll highlights Mr Blair's "trust problem" - one reason why he was so keen to persuade Mr Brown to assume a central role in Labour's effort to win a third term. While only 17 per cent of people trust the Prime Minister to keep his promises, some 30 per cent trust the Chancellor.
The findings will fuel the belief amongst Brown supporters of the Chancellor that he has rescued the Labour campaign. One Brown ally claimed yesterday: "You can track the rise in Labour's standing in the polls from the moment Gordon came to the fore."
Aides of Mr Blair dismiss the idea that Mr Brown has transformed a faltering campaign. They insist disaffected Labour supporters are "coming home" because they saw the Tories as a real threat.
NOP's findings call into question a claim often made by the Blair camp - that Mr Brown would have less appeal to non-Labour voters than Mr Blair. Some 36 per cent of Tory supporters trust the Chancellor to keep his promises, while only 7 per cent trust the Prime Minister. Among Liberal Democrats, 50 per cent trust Mr Brown and 8 per cent Mr Blair.
Mr Blair's "trust problem" appears greatest amongst the top AB group, who are three times more likely to believe Mr Brown than him.
There is no sign of a Tory breakthrough in the latest survey. Labour, 37 per cent, is enjoys a five point lead over the Tories. The Tories and Liberal Democrats are on 32 per cent and 21 per cent respectively. Mr Blair yesterday warned Labour against complacency. Privately, Labour strategists believe they are "in the right place" after using Mr Brown's role to make the economy a key issue.
The Tories have tried to cut Labour's lead by announcing plans to tackle Britain's "pensions timebomb". Today Michael Howard will switch the focus to crime ahead of the statistics for 2004 to be published on Thursday.
Announcing a five-point plan to tackle the "yob culture" and binge drinking, he will say: "Too many decent, hard working people are intimidated by drunk yobs - many no longer walk home on a nice evening."
A Tory Government would curb "all you can drink" promotions; remove the presumption in favour of drinking into the early hours; bring in new powers to tackle late night disorder hotspots; a greater say for local people and more police, with greater police accountability.
¿ Meanwihile, a Populus poll for The Times put Labour on 40 per cent - up three points since the last Populus poll two weeks ago. The poll put the Conservatives on 31 per cent - four points down since the last poll, and the Liberal Democrats on 21 per cent, which is two points up.
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