Will Blair’s legacy be a hung parliament

IAN COLLINS As Labour suffers its worst opinion poll rating since the party’s electoral nadir in the 1980s, Ian Collins finds the odds on a hung parliament suddenly and dramatically shortening.

IAN COLLINS

Her resignation letter very possibly in her shoulder bag, the imperious figure in front of me on the escalator, descending into the London Underground last week, was clad in imperial purple.

Would this ousted empress of the Left be hailed by the clamouring crowds in the former people's republic of Islington? She kept glancing at the line of faces on the up-escalator as if to check, and then looked to and fro as she strode along the packed platform.

But not a single person acknowledged her. No one even recognised her.


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Clare Short, it seemed, had just gone done the Tube.

But now the Independent Labour MP, who wishes to use her last years at Westminster to denounce the "shameful" Blairite record and to campaign for a hung parliament which would see many of her former colleagues losing their seats, may allow a grin to lighten that grim visage.

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The first major opinion poll since Ms Short-Fuse walked into the political wilderness has seen Labour plummet to a 20-year low. The backing of just 29pc of voters equals the low level registered by the party before its massive defeat by Margaret Thatcher at the 1987 general election.

The ICM/Guardian survey puts the Conservatives a full ten points ahead. It also shows the dogged Liberal Democrats inching up to a damaging 22pc (and overtaking Labour among the under-34s and middle-class voters), despite any lingering reservations about the low-profile leadership of Sir Menzies Campbell.

Politicians always insist they pay no attention to negative opinion polls - and that is one of the many points on which we have ceased to believe them.

You could almost hear the sighs of relief from Tory HQ, as the poll negates findings earlier in the week (admittedly from a tiny sample) that David Cameron's honeymoon with voters had ended and that, as PM, Gordon Brown was preferred among swing voters.

If the Conservative leader lost that winning streak, his party would surely be in danger of suddenly discovering that it didn't at all care for his apparent programme.

But, as it is, his refrain that the Tories now have three-letter priorities - N, H and S - appears to have been most spectacularly vindicated.

Despite almost doubling health spending since 1997 - to nearly £90 billion a year - Labour is getting absolutely no credit. Only 14pc of voters think the deluge of cash has been well-spent and a quarter of us actually believe that the NHS has worsened under Tony Blair.

And as a majority of British voters now favour a complete pull-out of our troops from Iraq within a year, at home and abroad the message for Mr Blair as he looks to secure his legacy is altogether uncomplimentary.

So shocking a survey could, of course, prove a blip. And even if confirmed, the findings are far from unalloyed good news to the Conservatives whose main raison d'être, after all, has always been the winning and holding of power. For, while sweeping London - and the South and the East, and making major inroads into the Midlands - the Tories continue to lag in the North of England, in Scotland and in Wales. More women than men now support them.

If leading Labour by the whopping margin of this poll come the next general election, Mr Cameron might claim only the narrowest of House of Commons majorities - of the sort that fatally weakened John Major from the start.

And a hung parliament would be far more likely - all the more so because almost one in ten of us now prefer none of the above. While the Greens and the UK Independence Party are still unlikely to enter Westminster without a change to the electoral system or a surprise defection, George Galloway's Respect grouping and a reviving Scottish National Party could wreak yet more havoc on Labour.

Planning ahead for a trickier future, Tony Blair tried hard from the outset to woo the Lib Dems - and it got him nowhere. But David Cameron may not have the luxury of being able to weather such a rebuff.

Most Lib Dem activists - as opposed to voters - would much prefer a deal with Labour under Gordon Brown (or even John Reid) for, until recently at least, the thought of working with the Tories was a total anathema.

But the times they are a-changing. All our major parties are green these days apparently (and David Cameron's main role model is so clearly Tony Blair).

Conservatives and Lib Dems are now co-operating closely on a number of local authorities, and running the former Labour bastions of Leeds and Birmingham in apparent harmony.

Ah yes, Birmingham. A local MP, for Ladywood, is one Clare Short.

How ironic if the fiery leftist had helped to usher in the mild new era of Cameron and Campbell.

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