Labour opens 10-point lead as Tory campaign begins to falter

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The Labour Party has opened a 10-point lead over the Tories, the latest opinion poll by NOP for The Independent found

The Labour Party has opened a 10-point lead over the Tories, the latest opinion poll by NOP for The Independent found

Labour has doubled its lead in the past week as the Tory election campaign appears to have run out of steam. Labour is up three points at 40 per cent, while the Tories are down two points on 30 per cent, and the Liberal Democrats are unchanged on 21 per cent. If repeated on 5 May, Tony Blair would win a majority of more than 150.

The survey gives Labour its biggest lead in NOP's series of polls for The Independent since February, when it was 12 points ahead. Since then it has fallen back to either five or six points.

Labour strategists will be pleased to reach the 40 per cent barrier, a target they have privately set. There is also some evidence that disaffected Labour supporters are returning to the fold.

In the past week, the proportion of Labour supporters who say they are certain to vote has risen by four points to 71 per cent. In contrast, the number of Tories saying they are certain to vote is 78 per cent. The poll points to an overall turnout of 62 per cent, up three points on NOP's last three surveys, which predicted a repeat of the 59 per cent turnout at the 2001 election.

However, such a big lead could be a double-edged sword for Labour. Party officials fear that the bigger the party's lead, the harder it will be to dissuade disaffected supporters to turn out to defeat the Tories.

A senior Labour source said last night: "Michael Howard's campaign, particularly on immigration, is driving people back to us. But we would rather the polls were closer. Otherwise people are in the comfort zone and think they can give us a kick without it having any consequences."

Mr Blair reflected this concern yesterday, when he said the picture in the key marginals that would decide the election was "tough and tight" despite the headline poll figures. Labour has launched a campaign to appeal directly to wavering voters by with the slogan: "If you value it, vote for it."

NOP's findings will cast gloom in the Tory camp and fuel the private doubts among some Tories that the party's campaign is misfiring. There has been criticism that Mr Howard has given the impression of being a "one-man band" even though he is not a popular figure with floating voters. Critics also say the Tories' have put too much emphasis on immigration, allowing Labour to portray them as a "single-issue party". NOP suggests the Tories are getting little or no net benefit by playing the immigration card.

In recent days, Mr Howard has changed tack by urging voters to "send a message" to Mr Blair on 5 May. Although he insists the Tories can still win, his plea is thought to be aimed at people who do not want to see Mr Blair win another thumping majority.

The Tory leader told voters yesterday: "On May 5 you have a choice: you can vote Conservative for lower taxes and value for money, or you can reward Mr Blair for eight years of broken promises and vote for four more years of higher taxes. Think carefully because it will be your last chance to send a message to Mr Blair."