PM yet to convince electorate over reforms

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Tony Blair is in a race against time to ensure that a majority of people believe that public services are improving before the general election, a new opinion poll suggested today.

Tony Blair is in a race against time to ensure that a majority of people believe that public services are improving before the general election, a new opinion poll suggested today.

The MORI survey for The Independent found that 55 per cent of people do not believe that the Government's policies will improve the state of public services, while 37 per cent think they will. But the poll suggests that the billions of pounds pumped into services is starting to convince a sceptical public that things will "get better", as Labour promised in 1997.

The poll of 831 people gave a mixed response to last week's Budget. Thirty-four per cent of people think that Gordon Brown's package is a good thing for them personally but 39 per cent do not, while 45 per cent believe the Budget is good for the country as a whole, and 34 per cent believe it is bad.

Labour strategists believe that public opinion on the state of public services will hold the key to the election expected in May next year. Mr Blair has contrasted the personal optimism of people about the quality of their local services with a mood of national pessimism about the general state of the country.

His advisers hope that a "feel-good factor" will emerge by winter, but the MORI survey suggests that the Government may struggle to achieve this before a May 2005 election. Labour has to recover a lot of ground to turn around voter scepticism. Immediately after the last election in 2001, 54 per cent of people believed the Government's policies would improve public services and 32 per cent did not.

But Mr Blair can take comfort from the trends on education, health, transport and policing, which have moved in the right direction in recent months. Education is the Government's strongest area, with 38 per cent expecting it to get better during the next few years and 23 per cent expecting it to get worse - a positive net rating of 15 points, up from seven points in December.

MORI's delivery index showed that 33 per cent expect the NHS to get better but 35 per cent believe it will get worse. The net rating of minus two is an improvement on the minus-five rating in December and the minus 12 in September.

People are upbeat about possible improvements in the way their area is policed, with 31 per cent thinking it will get better and 20 per cent worse - another advance on MORI's recent findings. On public transport, 32 per cent think it will get worse and 27 per cent better, but the net rating of minus 5 points is an improvement on the 11-point gap in December.

The Government fares less well on the environment, on which people have become more pessimistic. Only 24 per cent think its quality will improve, while 41 per cent believe it will get worse.

The Budget does not appear to have improved people's optimism about the economy. Some 38 per centthink the Government's policies will improve the economy, while 49 per cent do not; a net rating of minus 11 points - unchanged since December. The Chancellor's personal ratings are similarly unaffected. Some 46 per centare satisfied with his performance, while 38 per cent are not.

MORI found that men are more optimistic than women that public services and the economy will get better. While 42 per cent of men think that the Government's policies will improve the economy, only 33 per cent of women do. Four in 10 men believe public services will get better, compared with a third of women. Women are more likely to say the NHS will get worse (39 per cent) than men (32 per cent). Labour supporters were found to be more upbeat than other voters.

MORI interviewed 831 British adults, aged 18 plus, by telephone between Thursday and yesterday. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.

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