Lib Dems could win election, poll shows

The Liberal Democrats could break through to form a government with a big majority according to an exclusive opinion poll conducted for The Independent on Sunday.

The Liberal Democrats could break through to form a government with a big majority according to an exclusive opinion poll conducted for The Independent on Sunday.

Although 20 per cent of voters say they currently intend to vote for Charles Kennedy's party, 37 per cent of those surveyed agreed with the statement: "I would vote for the Liberal Democrats if they had a realistic chance of winning in my constituency".

Those who say they would make the switch to the Liberal Democrats include 29 per cent of Labour supporters, 19 per cent of Conservatives and one-third of those backing other parties.

If people voted along these lines in winnable constituencies, Mr Kennedy would become Prime Minister with a majority of 126 over Labour, and the Conservatives would be reduced to a rump of 56 seats. Six current cabinet ministers would also lose their seats: Margaret Beckett, Charles Clarke, Patricia Hewitt, Alan Johnson, Tessa Jowell and Ruth Kelly.

The figures suggest the potential for meltdown in the electoral system if the Liberal Democrats can persuade voters in their target seats that they have a "realistic chance" of winning. And they reveal the extent to which Tony Blair's decision to join the invasion of Iraq has shaken the kaleidoscope of British politics.

The Liberal Democrats have already gained support at Labour's expense since the build-up to war in Iraq, but could yet gain more.

The British involvement in Iraq remains unpopular and there is strong support for bringing the troops home.

The poll, carried out last week by CommunicateResearch, found that 59 per cent agreed that "British troops should be withdrawn quickly" after today's Iraqi elections, while 32 per cent disagreed.

However, voters are unlikely to shift their allegiance so dramatically in practice, and the poll contains good news for the Prime Minister, with Labour's lead over the Conservatives widening from five points last month to eight points.

Michael Howard's attack on the Government's record on immigration has failed to bring a lift to the Conservative Party.

But the potential of the immigration issue to cost the Labour Party votes is shown by the poll's finding that 71 per cent disagree that "the Government has the issue of illegal immigration under control", including 60 per cent of Labour voters.

There is, however, some comfort for Mr Howard in that the UK Independence Party is nearly off the electoral map on a mere 1 per cent, behind the Green Party on 3 per cent.

CommunicateResearch interviewed a random sample of 1,008 adults by telephone on 26 and 27 January. The results have been weighted to be representative of all adults. CommunicateResearch is a member of the British Polling Council. Full details can be found at www.communicateresearch.com

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