TONY BLAIR has emerged the clear favourite as Labour's future leader among electors in the south of England by-election town of Eastleigh, a poll claims.
A weekend Southampton University poll of 960 voters for the Southern Daily Echo put Mr Blair, the shadow Home Secretary, significantly ahead with 31.4 per cent.
Supporters of Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, insisted yesterday that his weekend barnstorming speech at the Welsh Labour conference had clearly established him as a 'very, very serious candidate' for the leadership.
But Labour's ability to win the next general election is likely to depend crucially on garnering support in southern England
Mr Brown's 7.3 per cent rating puts him way behind his friend and fellow 'moderniser', Mr Blair, and significantly behind the blunt-speaking northerner, John Prescott, with 15.3 per cent.
After Mr Prescott, the employment spokesman, comes Margaret Beckett, pro tem party leader, with 9.5 per cent.
Despite his intellect and reputation as one of the sharpest Commons performers, Robin Cook, the trade and industry spokesman, scored just 2.8 per cent.
Voters were asked which of the five potential candidates they would back, irrespective of their own political inclinations.
The results can be viewed only as a rough guide because of the high number - one in four questioned - who were 'don't knows'. But Mr Blair's supporters were in little doubt yesterday that he remains the front-runner.
Today, Mr Blair will break the silence imposed by the death of John Smith with a speech on the family to the Institute of Economic Affairs, the free-market think-tank.
He is expected to explore the relationship between the individual and the community - a central theme to his personal philosophy of modern socialism - and links between family breakdown and crime.
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