Tories regain poll lead over Labour

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David Cameron was given a lift last night after a poll showed the Tories have regained their lead over Labour, with a survey putting them six points ahead.

The CommunicateResearch poll for The Independent came as the Conservative leader appealed to his party to give him more time to establish himself. Urging patience, Mr Cameron said: "People are not going to leap out of the arms of Tony Blair into the hands of someone else."

He said his leadership campaign was based on the idea that the Conservatives have to make steady, patient changes to get the party back in touch with the British people. "It is not easy," he said. His remarks on BBC Radio followed an Ipsos MORI poll showing his net approval rating had dropped from plus 14 points in January, shortly after he was elected, to minus two points. It also suggested that among those who said they would definitely vote, Labour had a two-point lead over the Tories.

Those figures were a crushing blow to Mr Cameron's hopes of establishing a long lead over Labour before Gordon Brown replaces Tony Blair. Another poll by Populus added to the Tory gloom, with figures showing Mr Brown was more popular than Mr Cameron with floating voters.

But the Independent poll showed the Tories on 38, with a lead of six percentage points over Labour on 32 per cent and the Liberal Democrats trailing on 14 per cent, with others at 16 per cent.

The Tory leadership had feared a backlash by traditional supporters over Mr Cameron's refusal to endorse tax cuts totalling £21bn which had been proposed by his tax commission under Lord Forsyth. A third survey by YouGov for The Daily Telegraph found support for the Tories on taxation had dropped from 25 per cent to 20 per cent.

Tory leadership sources said the poll findings were more in line with a poll of polls presented to the party in private last Friday showing the Conservatives were sustaining a small lead.

Mr Cameron made a direct appeal for the "baby boomer" vote by warning against allowing care homes to become ghettos. The elderly had been "airbrushed" out of popular culture, he said at a meeting of Age Concern. In a direct riposte to Mr Blair's speech to a Labour conference celebrating Britain as a "young country", Mr Cameron said: "It isn't. The fact is we are an old country, with our best years ahead of us."

Alan Milburn, the former Labour health secretary, has called for the Government to introduce an NHS credit that could be "spent" by patients in obtaining long-term care of their choice. Mr Milburn,who has acted as an "outrider" for Downing Street, said the initial focus should be on those with complex long-term care needswhere services tend to be poorest.

Mr Milburn's remarks will alarm Labour traditionalists who fear further encroachment of the private sector in the NHS.