It’s been a difficult week for Tony Blair, but a couple of recent polls shows that rumours of his dimise may be premature. An ICM poll for Monday’s Newsnight showed that 28% of people think that he should resign now, but a quarter of people think he should go back on his earlier commitment and stay on until after the next election.

Unfortunately ICM’s poll wasn’t broken down by party allegiance – past polls asking questions about when Tony Blair should stand down have tended to show that the greatest proportion of people saying that Tony Blair should resign immediately are Conservative voters – in other words, they aren’t people who want Blair to make way for Gordon Brown, they are people who would want rid of any Labour PM.

Populus’s latest poll in the Times does it rather better, asking whether respondents agree that “the sooner Tony Blair goes and is replaced by Gordon Brown the better”. Suddenly Conservative voters aren’t quite so keen on Blair going, with a bare majority thinking it better that Blair stay. Labour voters disgree by 54% to 41% – Blair might be in trouble, but a majority of Labour’s supporters don’t want to see him leave just yet.

Blair’s position is weakening though – a majority of respondents thought that David Blunkett’s departure had damaged Tony Blair’s personal position, and almost 60% thought that “his authority is now ebbing away and he is not as much in control of the Government and its agenda as he was a few months ago”. This wasn’t just Tory and Lib Dem supporters either – 47% of Labour voters agreed. It will not do Tony Blair any favours if the perception that he no longer has the ability to control the government gathers ground.

That said, the bottom line is in Populus’s poll Labour still enjoy a lead in voting intention – CON 32%, LAB 40%, LD 19% – and a leader who enjoys an eight point lead over his opponants should by rights be in a strong position. However, by this time next month the Conservative Party will have finally chosen a new leader and there may yet be some interesting changes in party support.

Anti-Terrorism Laws

Last week the government faced problems not just as a result of David Blunkett’s resignation, but also through opposition to their anti-terrorist legislation, specifically plans to increase the length of time the police can hold terrorist suspects without charge to 90-days. Last Wednesday the government’s majority on the terrorism bill fell to just 1 and only the offer of a compromise avoided a government defeat on David Winnick’s amendment. The irony is that, according to the latest YouGov poll, the government’s position has the support of the public.

YouGov’s poll for Sky News shows that 72% of people support the extention of the period that terrorist suspects can be held to 90 days, either unconditionally or with the consent of a senior judge – a position that the government has already indicated that it will accept. Only 16% supported the 28-day limit in David Winnick’s amendment, with 6% favouring an even shorter limit.

The government also seem to be winning the broader argument on terrorism laws – 71% of YouGov’s respondents agreed with the argument that the threat from terrorism has fundementally changed because of terrorists’ use of technology anf their willingness to commit suicide, 76% think that the police genuinely believe that the 90-day limit is necessary to fight terrorism and 61% of people think that critics of the terrorism bill are more worried about the civil liberties of terrorists than the rights of the public to be protected from terrorism.

UPDATE: Populus’s monthly poll in the Times also has a question on the 90-day detention. Populus’s question asked a straight question on whether people thought the government was right or wrong to right “to insist that the police should have the power to detain suspected terrorists without charging them for up to 90 days”, without raising the issue of the involvement of the courts. 64% thought the government were right, 32% thought they were wrong.


Two new polls in the Sunday papers – BPIX in the Mail on Sunday and ICM in the Sunday Telegraph. ICM asked a hypothetical voting intention poll with Davis/Cameron as Conservative leader vs Brown as the Labour leader. The poll showed that Brown would win relatively easily over both potential leaders, with Cameron doing only 1% better than Davis. Ironically the real difference is the level of Lib Dem support between the two scenarios, with the Lib Dems on 18% under Davis but only 16% under Cameron, suggesting that there is some churn going on beneath the surface.

Before any Lib Dem supporters reading this panic, I should point out that hypothetical polls like this aren’t actually very good at predicting how people will vote. Respondents do understand the context they are being asked in and answer in that light, which means the Lib Dems are in the unfortunate position of being trapped between respondents saying Labour to indicate their preference of Brown over Blair and people saying Conservative to indicate preferences for Davis or Cameron. I suspect reality may not be so harsh for the Liberals.

The poll also asked which of the candidates would make the Tory party more attractive to “people like you” – 24% said Cameron while only 12% said Davis. 49% said it would make no difference either way. Bear in mind however, on this and the previous question, that the fieldwork on this poll was carried out prior to the Question Time debate on Thursday, so doesn’t take into account any difference that may have made to public perceptions of the candidates.

Moving on to BPIX’s poll, they also asked hypothetical voting intention questions for David Cameron as Tory leader (but not for David Davis, or at least, they weren’t published if they were) against either Tony Blair or Gordon Brown – like a recent ICM poll, this suggests that Gordon Brown as leader might not actually be such a boost to Labour fortunes as we tend to assume – the level of Labour support when faced with Cameron is identical under Brown or Blair.

The rest of BPIX’s poll deals with Labour’s recent problems over David Blunkett. Only 17% of people thought that Tony Blair handled the Blunkett affair well, with 46% thinking he handled it badly. 61% of people though that Tony Blair had been wrong to bring David Blunkett back into the cabinet so soon after his original resignation.

Perhaps more important is the wider perception of ‘sleaze’ in the government. Asked if the government had lived up to it’s promise to be ‘purer than pure’, a pitiful 2% thought it had, 28% thought Labour had done their best and 63% thought that Labour had not lived up to their promise. 33% of people thought that Labour were as sleazy as the last Tory government, 30% thought they were more sleazy.

There were also topline voting intention figures (the first published BPIX figures since the election, although previously unpublished figures from mid-October are given for comparison). After a bad week for Labour, their lead has fallen to only 2% – CON 35% LAB 37% LD 20%.

Saturday’s Telegraph has a snap YouGov poll reacting to the Question Time debate between David Cameron and David Davis. It shows that David Davis won the debate pretty convincingly and has made up some ground on Cameron, but despite this Cameron still enjoys a convincing lead amongst party members.

57% of YouGov’s respondents said they watched the Question Time debate, and 45% said that Davis impressed them the most, compared to only 18% who thought Cameron came out on top. 26% of those who watched Question Time were impressed enough with Davis to say that in the the light of the debate, they were now considering voting for Davis rather than Cameron.

On the list of questions about who be the better candidate to lead a united party, to challenge Blair and Brown in the Commons, in coming across on TV, increasing the Conservative chances of winning an election and being a good PM if they did, David Cameron continues to beat Davis quite convincingly on every count.

On the other hand asked about the candidates’ images, some strengths emerge for Davis and some weaknesses for Cameron. Members overwhelmingly think that David Davis is the candidate who has more well-developed views on policy and think he is more substance than style. Members also felt that Davis came across as being well-informed – a man who knew his stuff – although a majority also thought this about Cameron.

David Cameron meanwhile was seen as the candidate more likely to make bold decisions, the candidate with more self-confidence, he was seen as more of a potential Prime Minister, was overwhelmingly seen as the candidate who would allow the Conservatives to make a fresh start and who appeared to be a “man of the future”. On the downside almost 60% thought Cameron lacked political experience, 40% thought he had style, but little substance, and 24% thought he was a lightweight.

Next YouGov asked some questions about the positions of the candidates on taxation. Without identifying which candidate held which position, they asked respondents if they agreed with the candidate (in fact David Davis) who had said the party should promise to cut taxes by £1,200 a year, funded by the resultant growth in the economy. By a small margin members disagreed with this stance. Members were far more supportive of the candidate (in fact David Cameron) who said the party should wait till much closer to the election to make tax promises – this was supported by just under two-thirds.

The bottom line, however, is what difference will it make to how members vote. The last YouGov survey of party members immediately prior to Liam Fox’s elimination found that, excluding don’t knows, 77% preferred Cameron while 23% preferred Davis. The effect of the past weeks campaigning and Thursday’s debate had been a swing to Davis – the topline figures are now Cameron 68% to Davis’s 32%.

So while Davis is gaining on Cameron, Cameron still enjoys a hefty 36% lead and, while the debate has given him the momentum, Davis is running out of time to turn the situation around. Ballot papers go out this weekend and 50% of party members (including 58% of those supporting Cameron) told YouGov they would return their ballots almost immediately. Davis has won this battle, but he still looks set to lose the war.