The poll, carried out just one week before polling day next Thursday, suggested that the result, in a contest critical to Tony Blair's claim to lead "new" Labour and conceivably to the future of the Liberal Democrats, could be very close if Labour can persuade its supporters that they do not need to vote tactically against the Tories.
The poll showed Labour on 37 per cent, only 6 points behind the Liberal Democrat on 43 per cent, with the Conservative on 19 per cent, although among those who say they are "certain" to vote, and excluding those who are only "likely" to vote, the figures were Liberal Democrat 45, Labour 34, Conservative 20.
Even among those who say they are certain to vote in the by-election, however, 41 per cent say they would vote Labour in a general election against 33 per cent Liberal Democrat and 26 per cent Conservative. Labour efforts in the final week will be targeted at the one in five of people saying they intend to vote Liberal Democrat next Thursday, but who would vote Labour in a general election.
"I urge them not to wait," said Phil Woolas, the Labour candidate, yesterday. "They should send a clear message demanding change now."
But he also added: "I am specifically appealing to former Tory supporters to join Labour's swelling ranks. Their candidate cannot win. They should vote positively for change with Tony Blair and to stop the Liberal candidate winning."
He repeated Labour's attacks on Chris Davies, the Liberal Democrat candidate, over drugs - he has supported an inquiry into the decriminalisation of cannabis in the past - tax rises and "an independent tax-raising assembly for the North-west", designed to make him appear the left-wing candidate while Labour poses as the centre party. "A vote for Labour is a vote for a new beginning, for a party that is back in the mainstream," Mr Woolas said.
Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats kept up their assault on Mr Woolas's record as spokesman for the GMB general union, which opposed John Smith over one member, one vote, as a member of the editorial board of the left- wing newspaper Tribune, which opposed the rewriting of Clause IV, and as president of the National Union of Students, which backed Arthur Scargill, NUM leader, in the 1984-85 miners' strike.
nHarris Research conducted face-to-face interviews on Tuesday and Wednesday this week with 1,066 people who said they were likely or certain to vote, at 50 points across the eight wards in the constituency. The voting figures exclude 8 per cent who refused to say how they would vote and 20 per cent "don't knows".Reuse content