Skip to comments.Public loses faith in the Chancellor (Labour 36%, Tories 32%, but LibDems rising in UK!)
Posted on 01/30/2003 11:47:46 PM PST by Timesink
Labour's lead over the Conservatives has been cut to its lowest level since the fuel protests of September 2000, amid clear signs that the Government is losing its hard-won reputation for economic competence.
A survey by YouGov put Labour on 36 per cent (down three since December), the Tories on 32 per cent (unchanged) and the Liberal Democrats on 24 (up three).
Crucially, Labour and the Tories now stand almost neck and neck on the issue of economic management, the subject on which Tony Blair based much of his electoral success.
Thirty-two per cent of voters said they would trust Labour to handle the economy better in troubled times, compared with 31 per cent who thought the Conservatives would do a better job.
During the fuel crisis the Conservatives briefly overtook Labour on the economy. Afterwards they slipped back sharply and have been behind ever since.
The poll results will be deeply worrying for the Prime Minister and Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, who attracted middle-class voters at the last election with pledges not to put up income tax.
Mr Brown also promised not to return the country to "boom and bust", a phrase he has dropped recently.
With rises in national insurance contributions taking effect in April, shares falling and fears of falls in house prices, a return to economic optimism seems remote.
Although the figures make grim reading for Labour, they are far from unalloyed good news for the Tories.
Labour's slide has not been matched by a surge in backing for the Conservatives, whose support is no higher than it was at the last election.
Only 15 per cent of people think that Iain Duncan Smith would make the best prime minister, compared with 33 per cent for Mr Blair.
The poll lends weight to the theory that the Conservatives could be overtaken by the Liberal Democrats, whose support continues to rise.
As well as showing falling public faith in the Government on economic issues, the survey also suggests that people view Mr Blair's team as deeply divided and untrustworthy.
Sixty-five per cent of those interviewed said the Government was not "honest and trustworthy" and 79 per cent said it was divided and did not "speak with one voice".
Fifty-three per cent said that relations between Mr Blair and Mr Brown were "somewhat strained".
The perception of division will worry Labour strategists, who made great play of splits among the Tories when devising the strategy that swept Mr Blair to power in 1997.
Overall, the impression is of a Government that is no longer seen as competent. Some 69 per cent of voters said it was not in control of events. Mr Brown's problems continued to mount yesterday when the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, an economic research organisation, joined those saying that he might have to raise taxes to pay for his ambitious spending programme.
Martin Weale, the institute's director, said in his quarterly report: "The public finances will slide further into the red. Our central forecast is that net borrowing will rise to £28.6 billion by 2004-5."
That is £10 billion more than forecast by the Treasury and Mr Weale thinks that Mr Brown may have to put up taxes in three years' time.
The European Commission said that Mr Brown's growth forecasts were "somewhat optimistic" and could lead to excessive borrowing.
Although the economy as a whole is avoiding recession, the weak stock market is hitting the voters Labour has so carefully courted. The 11 million people with private pensions are suffering most.
The FTSE 100 index of leading shares recovered its poise and closed up 94.9 at 3,578.7 yesterday.
|29 January 2003: New Labour pact over dinner for two has left a bitter taste|
|11 January 2003: Public has zero tolerance of Blair on crime|
|4 January 2003: Is Kennedy capable of overtaking the Tories?|
|1 January 2003: Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Not for taxpayers, commuters . . . or the Tories|
|9 December 2002: Sleaze and spite threaten court of 'king Tony'|
One of Tony Blair's worst nightmares is fast becoming reality, according to YouGov's first regular monthly survey for The Daily Telegraph.
In the mid 1990s Mr Blair and his colleagues watched with delight but also horrid fascination as John Major's government fragmented internally and seemed to lose all control of events.
Now Mr Blair's own administration is beginning to give the same impression. According to YouGov, ministers are no longer "on message". Indeed, there no longer appears to be a message.
Partly as a consequence, Labour support has dropped sharply, with public confidence in the Government's competence and integrity also in free fall. For only the second time in a decade, Labour and the Conservatives are neck and neck on the crucial issue of economic competence.
However, Labour's slide has so far not been matched by a resurgence in the Tories' electoral fortunes. Conservative support is no higher now than at the time of the last election and the main beneficiaries of Labour's decline continue to be the Liberal Democrats.
YouGov's findings raise the possibility that the Conservatives' worst nightmare could also become reality, with the Liberal Democrats overtaking them as Labour's principal opponents.
Iain Duncan Smith's impact as Conservative leader - like William Hague's before him - continues to be nil. How much actual damage his presence inflicts on the Tories is open to doubt but he is in no conceivable sense an asset.
A mere 15 per cent of voters now think that Mr Duncan Smith "would make the best Prime Minister", fewer than half the proportion who think the same of Mr Blair. The Tory leader trails well behind the Liberal Democrats' Charles Kennedy.
YouGov's findings paint a devastating overall picture of a Labour Government that once prided itself on being confidently - and visibly - in charge of the nation's affairs, one that people could trust. The present Government, once solid-looking, now looks flakey.
Barely a quarter of voters, 27 per cent, believe Mr Blair and his colleagues have "on balance, been honest and trustworthy" - the lowest figure, by a wide margin, since Labour came to power. More than twice as many, 65 per cent, now believe this is an administration that cannot be trusted.
The Government is also seen as divided. YouGov asked: Do you have the impression that the Blair Government at the moment is speaking with one voice or many conflicting voices? The majority of voters have noted the disarray in ministerial ranks over Iraq, student fees and other issues:
Speaking with one voice......16
Or conflicting voices......79
A large majority of voters have also taken note of the long-standing but now acute tensions between 10 and 11 Downing Street. YouGov asked respondents to give their impression of the current state of relations between Mr Blair and Gordon Brown. More than two thirds appear to have heard the news:
Very or quite friendly......21
Somewhat or very strained......69
The Government also conveys the sense that - as under John Major's government in the 1990s - events are spinning out of its control. YouGov asked: Do you have the impression that the Government at the moment is or is not in control of events? The answers speak for themselves:
In control of events......25
Not in control......69
However, Mr Blair's troubles go well beyond matters of image. Almost as many people now give the Conservatives the highest rating on economic competence as take the same view of Labour.
Only in September 2000, during that month's nationwide fuel protests, have the two parties been so close in recent years. The explanation lies not so much in any mounting faith in the Tory Party as in the widespread sense that the economic outlook is increasingly gloomy with the present Government at least partly to blame.
The feelgood factor - the difference between the proportion of people believing their household's financial situation will improve over the next 12 months and the proportion believing it will deteriorate - now stands at a depressing minus 26, worse than in Mr Major's last years in office and easily the worst since Labour came to power.
Beyond that, YouGov's findings make it clear that Labour's advantage over the Tories on a wide variety of other issues has either narrowed substantially since the last general election or else disappeared altogether.
Labour led the Tories on all but one of the eight principal issues that faced voters at the time of the 2001 general election. According to the latest survey, Labour now leads on only four of them. Labour has forfeited its leads on Europe, law and order and, perhaps most significantly, taxation.
On all the other issues, the gap between the two main parties is now far smaller than it was two and a half years ago.
However, lest Conservative supporters make too much of YouGov's results, it is an equally striking finding of the latest poll that on these issues as well as others it is the Liberal Democrats who have made significant gains.
The Liberal Democrats are now actually ahead of the Tories on both the NHS and education. The fine print of YouGov's data suggest that almost no voters are switching directly from Labour to the Conservatives.
Far more - many of them on the Left wing of the party - are switching to the Left-seeming Liberal Democrats or else telling YouGov they are now undecided.
YouGov elicited the opinions of 1,949 adults across Great Britain on-line between Jan 28 and 30. The data have been weighted to correspond to the demographic profile of British adults as a whole.
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