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Labour lead widens to 27 points

Only one voter in five is prepared to take the opinion polls at face value, according to today's Independent/Harris poll. With the polls showing Tony Blair heading for a 261-seat majority, only 20 per cent of voters think the election is "already decided".

The state of the parties in our weekly poll is in line with figures from NOP and Gallup this week. Today's poll puts Labour on 56 per cent, the Tories on 29 per cent and the Liberal Demo-crats on 10 per cent. Labour's lead has increased by two percentage points since last week, while our figure for the LibDems has fluctuated: it was 10 per cent two weeks ago and 14 per cent last Friday. If we iron out the fluctuations by comparing today's poll with two weeks ago, Labour is up three points and the Tories down three.

This suggests that Labour's lead has continued to strengthen since the Wirral South by-election at the end of last month, as all Harris's interviews were carried out since then.

The only other UK-wide party to register is Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Party, on 2 per cent. But our polls suggest that this is enough to damage John Major by siphoning off votes which would otherwise be Tory. Over the three weeks the Independent/Harris polls have been running, 60 per cent of Referendum Party supporters say they voted Tory at the last election. This could see up to a dozen extra seats falling to Labour which would otherwise have stayed Tory.

However, our latest poll suggests voters are not too worried about a Labour landslide. More people - 35 per cent - want a "large Labour majority" than any other election outcome; the next most popular is "small Labour majority", preferred by 20 per cent. Only 7 per cent want "a hung parliament, with the minority parties holding the balance of power"; 10 per cent want a small Tory majority and 10 per cent a large Tory majority (18 per cent don't know).

A Blair landslide is most popular among Labour supporters but, surprisingly, 40 per cent of Liberal Democrats described a small or large Labour victory as their "best" outcome.

And, despite a change in question wording to try to prove otherwise, the evidence from our latest poll continues to be that the Tory vote is softer than Labour's.

Last week, we asked how certain people were to vote for the party they named. This week, we simply asked how certain people were to vote at all, but again Labour voters were markedly more likely to say that they would turn out: 69 per cent said that they would "certainly" vote, compared with 60 per cent of Tories.

The Independent/Harris Poll

Labour 56%

Conservative 29%

Lib Dem 10%

Others 5%

Harris Research interviewed 1,016 adults face-to-face in their homes between 14 and 17 March.