Narrowing Conservative lead fuels talk of earlier election

THE CONSERVATIVES’ lead over Labour has narrowed to single figures, a Guardian/ICM poll showed yesterday, upping the pressure on Gordon Brown to call an early election.

This is the first ICM poll since the end of 2008 that gives the Tories less than a double-digit lead, raising hope in the Labour camp that they can still win.

It showed the Conservatives on 40 per cent, down two points, Labour on 31 per cent, up two, and the Liberal Democrats on 18 per cent. The findings are likely to lead to increased calls for Brown to hold an election on 25 March, rather than the widely-expected 6 May polling day.

Tory leader David Cameron welcomed the prospect of a snap election yesterday. “I have been saying internally that I think March 25 is quite a likely date if the Prime Minister wants any freedom of manoeuvre. I have said to all my team to be ready in the New Year for an early election. All systems are go, we are clearing manifestos,” he said.

Two months ago there was a 17 point gap between the two main parties. Labour’s share of the vote has been edging up for the last four months. The numbers would still result in an outright Conservative win, but by a narrow margin.

The breakdown suggests there are growing doubts over the economic competence of Cameron and his shadow chancellor, George Osborne. Two months ago, 49 per cent of voters thought they would do better than Brown and Alistair Darling, but that figure has fallen to 38 per cent.