Nearly half of all voters cannot name Tory Party leader

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In his conference speech last year, Mr Duncan Smith famously said do not underestimate the determination of "the Quiet Man". Of Mr Duncan Smith's determination there can now be little doubt. He has clung tenaciously to his party's leadership over the past twelve months. But as to his ability to ensure he is heard, severe doubts remain.

According to our exclusive NOP poll only 53 per cent of the public know that Mr Duncan Smith is leader of the Conservative party. Two per cent still think that William Hague is the leader, while the remainder simply do not know.

Even among those who say they would vote Conservative in a general election, nearly three in ten are unable to name the opposition leader, while no less than 56 per cent of women and 73 per cent of 18-24 year olds are unable to do so.

If voters do not know who Mr Duncan Smith is, he is clearly not making much of an impression. True, in MORI's polls the proportion who are unable to say whether they are satisfied or dissatisfied with the leader of the opposition is, at 32 per cent, a little lower now than this time last year (39 per cent). But much good it has done him. Those dissatisfied with his performance have increased by ten points while those who are satisfied have declined by three.

Alarmingly for him, Mr Duncan Smith's satisfaction rating is now as bad as that of his hapless predecessor, Mr Hague, at the same stage in his leadership. But behind Mr Duncan Smith's unpopularity lies a more serious problem for the Conservatives. They are still not widely regarded as a credible alternative to the Government. In our NOP poll slightly fewer people think the Conservatives are the real opposition (39 per cent) than think the Liberal Democrats are (41 per cent). Meanwhile no less than one in five voters are not sure who, if anyone, is now the real opposition.

A Populus poll published over the weekend paints an equally dark picture. Those who think the Conservatives do not have good leaders outnumber those who think they do by no less than 51 points. Equally those who do not think the party is competent outnumber those who do by 31 points. The Liberal Democrats' ratings on those issues in contrast are only just negative - by four points and one point respectively.

Such figures explain why the Conservatives have failed to secure more than a 38 per cent rating in any recent poll despite the public's growing unhappiness with Labour.

According to YouGov, since the 2001 election there has been a 26-point drop in the number of people who think Labour would be better able than the Conservatives to cope if Britain were in economic difficulties.

But the proportion who think the Conservatives would be better has risen by just four points. Instead, there has been a 22-point increase in the proportion unable to say which of the two parties would be the better. Equally, even though voters think that public services such as health and education have worsened under Labour, and even though there is considerable pessimism about prospects for the future, the Conservatives are not thought capable of doing any better. According to Populus, 44 per cent think the Conservatives would be likely to improve the NHS, almost exactly the same as the 46 per cent who think Labour can. And the 57 per cent who think the Conservatives are likely to improve standards in schools are barely more than the 52 per cent who say the same of Labour. Mr Duncan Smith's problem is that he has failed to give his party a clear direction that in the public's mind both draws a line under the party's mistakes in the 1990s and evokes a favourable comparison with the current Labour administration. The unveiling this week of the party's new policy document, Trusting People - A Fair Deal for Everyone, will therefore be crucial. It is expected to call for higher pensions, lower taxes and the introduction of vouchers that could be used for public and private education and health services. Whether that will ensure electoral success remains to be seen. Voters feel they are not getting value formoney. But they are telling the pollsters that they want better public services rather than lower taxes. And they seem reluctant about private schools and hospitals. Mr Duncan Smith will need not only to be loud this week but persuasive.

John Curtice is Professor of Politics, Strathclyde University

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