Tuesday’s headline on Uncle Rupert’s UK flagship, The Times,
is pretty clear: “Support for Labour at lowest level since 1992”. As
the story later reveals, what the Populus poll actually shows is that
Labour’s vote is “equal to the lowest in any poll since 1992”, but
that’s still plenty bad enough. Voting intention is put at Conservative
38%, Labour 30%, Liberal Democrats 20%. In addition, 65% agreed with
the statement “The way things are going, I think Labour will lose the
next general election.”

Putting that in perspective, Tony Blair
has had just about as bad a week as a prime minister can. But the sharp
drop in his support is not yet nightmarish. It is still much less of a
reverse than that suffered by the Tories in 1992, after “Black
Wednesday”; Labour’s support then hit 49%. And answers to heavily
loaded questions don’t mean a great deal.

Blair’s problem is the
strong Tory vote: the Lib Dems are failing to make up ground (actually
down 1% since the last poll), and Tory leader David Cameron is still
enjoying a honeymoon. But Cameron has his own internal problems, and
Labour may reasonably hope that voters will start to ask some more
serious questions about him as time passes.

It is also far from
obvious, as I have said before, that switching from Blair to Gordon
Brown is going to help at all. According to the poll, half of all
voters think Blair should leave before the end of this year. But only
28% of Labour voters think that (with a further 20% undecided), and
despite his recent woes, that percentage is unchanged since the previous
poll.

Don’t expect The Times to show Blair any favours,
though. The front page story boldly asserts that “While Labour leaders
will hope that opinion will swing back a little, the latest figures
show how it could shift permanently towards the Tories if disunity
continues.” I fail to see how a single set of figures could show that.
More perceptive is the comment by Peter Riddell at the bottom of a
story on page six: “The Tories have now moved from being unelectable to
potentially electable, though power is still some way away.”

Peter Fray

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