Blair loses popularity stakes for first time

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 July, 2006, 12:00am

Prime Minister Tony Blair is less popular than his main rival for the first time in 12 years, according to a poll released yesterday.

Mr Blair also suffered more bad news on the electoral front, with results from by-elections for two vacant parliamentary seats yielding a poor showing for his Labour Party.

Pollsters YouGov, in a survey commissioned by The Daily Telegraph, found 30 per cent of Britons thought new Conservative Party leader David Cameron would make the best prime minister, against 28 per cent who preferred Mr Blair.

The Telegraph said it was the first time any of five successive Conservative leaders had been preferred to Mr Blair since he took the helm of the Labour Party in 1994 as opposition leader under Conservative Prime Minister John Major.

According to the poll, 39 per cent of respondents would vote Conservative if there were a general election tomorrow, against 33 per cent who would vote Labour. That compares to 35 per cent backing Labour in April, with 33 per cent who would vote Conservative.

Mr Blair, who led Labour to an unprecedented third consecutive general election victory last year, has pledged not to seek a fourth term.

But a series of government scandals over sex, sleaze and mismanagement has led to calls for him to step down soon in favour of finance minister Gordon Brown.

Of those quizzed, just 7 per cent said Mr Brown would make an excellent prime minister, while 31 per cent said he would be pretty good and 25 per cent said he would not be very good.

The Conservatives, whose reputation for economic competence was hit when the British pound crashed out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992, were catching up with Labour on the issue of economic management. Both parties were equal at 31 per cent on the question of which would run the economy best.