The Conservatives face a third consecutive election defeat unless they dramatically improve their performance, Michael Howard, the shadow Chancellor, warned yesterday.
Amid renewed infighting at senior levels of the party, Mr Howard admitted that the Tories had not capitalised enough on the Government's woes to triumph at the polls. The squabbling was set offby a claim by Tim Yeo, the shadow Trade and Industry Secretary, that Iain Duncan Smith's attempts to modernise the party were being blocked. The remarks were seen as a swipe at Theresa May, the party chairman.
Recent opinion polls put the party up to four points ahead of Labour after the David Kelly affair. Opposition parties are estimated to need a double-digit lead in the middle of a parliament to stand a chance of winning a general election.
"The electoral system is such that if we are to win the next election and save the country - which is what we need to do - we need to be much further ahead," Mr Howard said. He conceded the party under Mr Duncan Smith still had to do a "lot more work [to] show people that the policies [it] will put in place will make their lives better".
A Labour spokeswoman said: "It's clear the Tories' summer in-fighting goes on." She said that "rather than passing the buck", Mr Howard should realise the public did not trust his party because of its policy of "cutting public spending by 20 per cent across the board".
A YouGov survey for The Mail on Sunday yesterday put the Tories on 38 per cent, Labour on 34 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 21 per cent. It was the Conservatives' best showing since 2000.
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