Labour has ordered its party workers to launch an unprecedented assault on the Liberal Democrats amid mounting concern that their rise could kill Labour's prospects of retaining power.
The party's high command is increasingly worried that the Liberal Democrats will split the anti-Conservative vote in the 100 Labour-Tory marginals that will decide the election, allowing the Tories to come through to win many of them. New leaflets and direct mailshots, seen by The Independent, accuse Nick Clegg's party of being "soft" on crime, immigration and defence.
Meanwhile, the Tories are warning that a vote for the Liberal Democrats could allow Labour to cling to office by ditching Gordon Brown and installing a new prime minister for whom the public had not been given a chance to vote and who had not appeared in the leaders' debates.
Sir John Major, the former Tory Prime Minister, said a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition could result in a second unelected premier because Mr Clegg has hinted that his price for supporting Labour could be Mr Brown's resignation. If Labour came third, Sir John said, a Lib-Lab coalition could lead to the Children's Secretary Ed Balls, Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman or "Toto the dog" moving into Downing Street, he told the Oxford Union.
The latest ComRes survey for The Independent and ITV News confirms the election is a tight three-horse race. The Tories are on 33 per cent (up one point), with Labour (up one) and the Liberal Democrats (down two points) neck and neck on 29 per cent and other parties on 9 per cent (unchanged). Such a result tomorrow week would make Labour the largest party with 277 seats, 49 short of an overall majority, while the Tories would have 248 and the Liberal Democrats 93.
ComRes found that a majority of people, while not actively wanting a hung parliament, are not frightened by the prospect – despite Tory warnings about the dangers, which will be stepped up in the next few days.
Asked whether a hung parliament would be good or bad for their own financial situation, 10 per cent said it would be good, 24 per cent bad and 66 per cent that it would make no difference. Younger people were more likely to be relaxed about such an outcome. Similarly, three in four people thought it would make no difference to their or their partner's job prospects, while 10 per cent said it would be good and 16 per cent bad.
Some 23 per cent thought a balanced parliament would be bad for their overall quality of life and 15 per cent good for it, while 62 per cent felt it would make no difference. One in five (20 per cent) believed such a result would make them feel bad about politicians, with slightly fewer (17 per cent) saying good and 64 per cent that it would make no difference.
According to ComRes, 2 per cent of people said they had already voted by post – almost 1 million voters – while about 3.7 million people are still undecided about who to support.
Labour has issued new material to party activists on "squeezing and beating" Mr Clegg's party, which warns that "a vote for the Lib Dems will let the Tories win". Leaflets include claims that would be disputed by the Liberal Democrats – that they "are soft on crime," "want an amnesty for illegal immigrants" and "would put our nuclear deterrent at risk." One draft mailshot tells voters: "Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg is refusing to rule out backing the Tories in a hung parliament. In your area, a vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote that helps the Tories."
ComRes telephoned a random sample of 1,005 GB adults on 25-26 April 2010. Data were weighted to be representative of all adults and by past vote recall. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at www.comres.co.ukReuse content