John Curtice: Chancellor has ingredient Blair lacks - voters' trust

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The Independent Online

Labour has so far held off the Conservative challenge. At five points, its lead has slipped by just one point since our NOP poll last week. If that lead were to hold through until polling day it should be enough to give Tony Blair a majority of 122. The Conservatives continue to flatline with just 32 per cent while the Liberal Democrats are doing no more than holding their own on 21 per cent.

Labour has so far held off the Conservative challenge. At five points, its lead has slipped by just one point since our NOP poll last week. If that lead were to hold through until polling day it should be enough to give Tony Blair a majority of 122. The Conservatives continue to flatline with just 32 per cent while the Liberal Democrats are doing no more than holding their own on 21 per cent.

But Labour's task would all be so much easier if instead Gordon Brown were seeking his first term. No less than 11 per cent more people say they would vote Labour if the Chancellor were now Labour leader.

Not only do 23 per cent of those who currently intend to vote Liberal Democrat say they would switch to Labour under a Brown leadership but so also would no less than 16 per cent of Conservatives.

These figures may exaggerate how different things might be under Mr Brown. Voters may in part be simply telling us they like Mr Brown. But even if only one-third of those who say they would switch actually did so, Labour would now be heading for a victory at least as comfortable as the one it enjoyed four years ago instead of the rather more knife-edge, nervous contest it is having to face.

Mr Brown has one key asset that Mr Blair has lost - trust. Nearly twice as many trust Mr Brown to keep his promises as do Mr Blair. True, many of the latter are opposition supporters, some of whom may have seen answering, "Mr Brown" as a way of giving an anti-Labour answer.

However, NOP also gave these respondents the chance to give a yet more anti-Labour answer, "neither". Nevertheless, among Liberal Democrat supporters at least, more still opted to say Mr Brown than to respond, "neither". In any event, none of this explains why Mr Blair only leads Mr Brown by 39 per cent to 31 per cent, even among Labour supporters.

Perhaps even more remarkably, Mr Blair is least trusted and Mr Brown most trusted amongst middle class "AB" voters. The days when Mr Blair had a special ability to make a "New Labour" appeal to middle-class voters appear to be well and truly over. It is now the Chancellor, not the Prime Minister, whose personal appeal looks the more "New Labour" in character.

But if Labour has to worry about the popularity of the Prime Minister, it seems it has less to worry about than widely thought, on its appeal amongst women.

Prior to the election campaign it was widely suggested that Labour was doing particularly badly among women and needed to pay particular attention to their needs.

Of this supposed difficulty, there is no sign in our polls. To provide a, more robust estimate of the gender gap than can be acquired from a single poll we have combined the figures from all three of the polls we have conducted this month.

Overall, Labour has a six-point lead among women, while it is trailing by a point amongst men. Far from being particularly reluctant to see Labour elected a third time, it looks as though women are keener on seeing Labour re-elected than are men.

It seems too that Labour does not have to worry about the impact of the closure of Rover. Our poll is the first to be wholly conducted since the collapse was announced. Yet Labour's lead has held up well.

That the party's support can apparently survive such bad economic news is perhaps but further evidence of how much it now owes to the reputation of its Chancellor.

John Curtice is professor of politics at Strathclyde University

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