James Forsyth

The Tories are in the same poll position as New Labour was nine months before the 1997 landslide

The Tories are in the same poll position as New Labour was nine months before the 1997 landslide
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The latest set of polls has created some grumblings among Tories, and CoffeeHousers, about the party not being further ahead. Personally, I’m highly sceptical of polls at the moment. British politics has, for obvious reasons, been too unusual in the past few weeks to make a snapshot of opinion that useful. But it is worth pointing that the Tories are ahead by the exactly the same amount in the ICM poll - whose numbers are comparable - as Labour were in August 1996.

The similarities don’t end there: The Guardian also presented its August 1996 poll as good news for the government that was 12 points behind. Here are extracts from its report on that August 1996 poll:

POLL PILES PRESSURE ON LABOUR.

By Martin Kettle.

THE Labour high command's nightmare scenario, a repetition of the 1992 general election defeat, began to take shape yesterday as the latest Guardian-ICM opinion poll confirmed a sustained Conservative come-back.

Labour's long standing opinion poll lead over the Conservatives has been cut by three points in the last month, leaving the gap between the parties at its closest in almost two years, according to the August Guardian-ICM poll survey.

The Labour advantage has fallen in each of the past four months. It now stands at 12 points, nine points down from the 21-point lead in April.

Labour retains a large enough lead for an election victory, but the narrowing will shape the fierce pre-election contest. It will electrify the Conservatives by reinvigorating their latest anti-Labour campaign tactics, and will give Tony Blair's leadership its first serious taste of battle with a confident enemy when the political season resumes next month.

The state of the parties in the adjusted August survey shows Labour at 45% (no change on July), Conservatives 33 (up 3), Liberal Democrats 19 (down 2), and others 3 (down 1).

With nine months to go before the expected polling day, the results show the political momentum is with the Conservatives, who last month launched a major scare campaign against Mr Blair under the slogan New Labour: New Danger.

This latest poll, which consolidates a trend among other polling organisations, will boost Tory hopes that the long-awaited feelgood factor, which some had despaired of ever seeing, is arriving at the 11th hour via the high street and the housing market to bring them electoral relief. Mr Blair, on the other hand, will be strengthened in his view that party divisions - such as the rows about the shadow cabinet elections and the treatment of Clare Short - help the Tories. Obviously, the Tories face more challenges than New Labour did in 1997 in turning their poll lead into a majority: the electoral system is highly unfavourable to them and they are starting from a far lower base. But these latest polls are no cause for panic.

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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