Lib Dems supplant Tories as the real opposition, IoS poll shows

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Charles Kennedy and the Liberal Democrats now provide more effective opposition to the Government than Michael Howard, according to a poll for The Independent on Sunday.

Charles Kennedy and the Liberal Democrats now provide more effective opposition to the Government than Michael Howard, according to a poll for The Independent on Sunday.

The poll, which shows the Conservatives trailing Labour by 11 percentage points - the widest margin since May 2003 - will make dismal reading for Mr Howard. It suggests that the Tories are performing less well than in the final days of Iain Duncan Smith, replaced by Mr Howard a year ago this month. In Mr Duncan Smith's last month as leader, Labour enjoyed an average lead in the polls of five points.

On taking the fight to the Government, Mr Howard has been outdone by Mr Kennedy. Asked if "Charles Kennedy and the Liberal Democrats are a more effective opposition than Mr Howard and the Tories", 44 per cent agree and 41 per cent disagree.

The poll, carried out by Communicate Research on Wednesday and Thursday last week, makes clear that Mr Howard is failing to appeal to young people and that his attacks on Labour miss the mark. A key finding is that one-third of Conservative voters think the party would do better if William Hague returned to the leadership. Asked whether Mr Hague would be a "better leader of the Conservative Party" than Mr Howard, 35 per cent of Tory voters agreed. Only a bare majority of Tory voters, 45 per cent, disagreed.

The poll finds that young people have largely written off the party's chances. By a majority of 53 per cent, people in the 18-24 age group agree that "the Conservatives are likely to be out of power for at least another 10 years", and only 35 per cent disagree with this.

The widespread criticism of Labour's election programme, unveiled last week, for trying to create a "climate of fear", is not reflected in the poll. We asked people whether they agreed that "the anti-terrorism measures in the Queen's Speech are mainly an attempt to frighten people into voting Labour": 39 per cent agreed, but 48 per cent disagreed.

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