'Cameron climb' dampens election talk

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor A snap general election next month was being cut from the prime minister's script last night as three opinion polls pointed to a sudden 'Cameron climb' for the Tories that could wipe out Labour's majority.

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor

A snap general election next month was being cut from the prime minister's script last night as three opinion polls pointed to a sudden 'Cameron climb' for the Tories that could wipe out Labour's majority.

The poll findings - giving Labour a lead of between 1pc and 4pc - showed a surge of support for David Cameron and his party since the start of this week's Conservative conference.

And the sound of brakes being slammed on came from Downing Street as Gordon Brown and his aides studied evidence of voter volatility that suggested a decision to go to the country could prove politically suicidal.

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A 4pc lead for Labour in a YouGov poll for Channel 4 was dramatically down from one of 11pc a week earlier, after the Labour conference. A Populus poll for the Times similarly showed Labour's lead cut to 3pc (from 10pc) and an ICM poll for the Guardian had Labour ahead by a mere 1pc.

Ironically, the fading of election fever is likely to see sighs of relief all round in East Anglia as no party can confirm a full slate.

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The Tories have still to find candidates to fight the two Norwich seats, and North West Cambridgeshire.

While the Lib Dems are waiting to officially confirm who will stand in all seats including Yarmouth.

Labour's sitting MPs are all standing again and candidates have already been unveiled to contest North West Norfolk, North Norfolk and North East Cambridgeshire.

Marion Little, the Tories outgoing regional campaign director, admitted that emergency procedures may be invoked in the remaining seats without candidates were the Prime Minister to call an election next week.

But she said the party was more than ready to fight.

“We are pretty up for it,” she said. “Our election templates are ready and we have been having briefing meetings about what people need to put in place. In the battleground seats they have been working to a strict programme for a long time.”

Tim Huggan, the Lib Dem's regional spokesman, said the last weeks had seen a wave of activity including placing printers on stand by in case to produce election literature if a snap poll was called.

Officials had even pencilled in a visit in the coming weeks from party leader Sir Menzies Campbell.

The Greens are also promising to field candidates across Norfolk, but final selections are still to place in some seats such as Mid-Norfolk.

However, the latest poll ratings are a great boost for the Tories and Mr Cameron, whose unscripted speech to his conference seems to have been well received by the public as well as much of the media. And they will cause deep consternation to Mr Brown and many of his senior colleagues and party activists after weeks of electoral speculation and apparent gearing up for a contest to give him a personal mandate and increased majority.

The government is expected to go ahead next week with a Pre-Budget Report outlining next spring's tax changes and a Comprehensive Spending Review setting out public spending commitments up to 2011. These could produce another 'Brown bounce' and yet be used as the springboard for a general election on November 1 or 8.

The prime minister is not expected to tick the 'Yes' or 'No' box until Sunday, and by then he will have further polling evidence that could be more encouraging for him. But it looks as if the PBR and CSR will come instead of an election announcement rather than as the prelude to one.

If Mr Brown is now for turning from a November election, it will be an embarrassing move that is likely to damage his authority and enhance Mr Cameron's reputation.

It could end his 'honeymoon' as prime minister, and would certainly lead to a difficult post-mortem. Many Labour MPs and activists would be wondering why they had been marched to the top of the hill only to be marched down again. And much of the electorate might question why election conjecture had been stoked up to dominate the political agenda for weeks and had then ended in nothing.

The Channel 4 poll put Labour on 40pc, the Tories on 36 and the Liberal Democrats on 13. The Times figures were: Labour 39pc, Tories 36 and Lib Dems 15. In both cases, Labour would struggle to win a Commons majority larger than the current one of 66, and a substantially worse result for the party - only two and a half years into the current parliament - would be possible.

The Guardian poll - Labour 39pc, Tories 38 and Lib Dems 16 - underlined the danger that an election could even see the removal of Labour's Commons majority, and produce a hung parliament that would probably be politically fatal for Mr Brown.

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