Hung parliament beckons as Tories lead by four points

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The Conservatives enter the party conference season with a four-point lead over Labour, according to the latest "poll of polls" for The Independent.

Although David Cameron has cemented his party's lead over Labour, he is not yet doing well enough to be confident of winning the next general election. The recent turmoil at the top of the Labour Party does not seem to have harmed its standing dramatically and may have shaved only one point off its ratings.

The weighted average of the opinion polls taken by MORI, ICM, Populus and YouGov last month puts the Tories on 37 per cent (unchanged on the previous month), Labour on 33 per cent (unchanged) and the Liberal Democrats on 20 per cent (up one point).

On these figures, the next election would result in a hung parliament. After taking account of boundary changes, Labour would win 299 seats, the Tories 270, the Liberal Democrats 50 and other parties 31.

If they joined forces, Labour and the Liberal Democrats would have an overall majority of 48. But if the Tories and Liberal Democrats linked up, they would be six seats short of an overall majority.

John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, who compiled the figures, said: "What the Tories needed to do was to come out of the summer still in the lead and thereby demonstrate that the lead that emerged at the end of April and early May was more than a temporary aberration. They have clearly done that, and we can now be quite sure that the 12-year period of Labour domination in the polls that goes back to Black Wednesday 1992 is finally over."

But Professor Curtice added: "Mr Cameron still has some way to go as far as having a realistic chance of entering No 10 is concerned."

He said the Tories had still made little progress in eliminating the so-called "yellow peril" threat from the Liberal Democrats - even though Mr Cameron has called himself a "liberal Conservative" and given prominence to issues such as the environment in an attempt to woo supporters.

Looking back 12 months to last year's conference season, it is clear the Tories are the main winners. A year ago, Labour was eight points ahead in the "poll of polls". Since then, there has been a 6 per cent swing from Labour to the Tories, while the Liberal Democrats have fallen back by two points.