The second conference of the season, and a fresh round of conference polls. Populus and ICM both have new polls in this mornings papers.

Populus’s poll looked at whether or not Tony Blair has managed to permanently change the public image of the Labour party. While we’ve already seen that Gordon Brown is seen as more left wing than Tony Blair, do people think that he will drag Labour back to the left when he takes over?

70% of people think that Labour has “really changed from its old Labour past and won’t go back even when Tony Blair retires”. However this doesn’t mean people think Brown won’t make any difference, opinion on that is far more divided – 52% think government policy will significantly change when Brown takes over, 44% think ti won’t. This suggests that, while few people think Gordon Brown will transform Labour back into a 1970s, unilateralist, beer-and-sandwiches version of itself, over half the population do think he will change the party, and I doubt many believe the change will be a move to the right.

The government’s attempts to emphasise that Gordon Brown will continue to govern in the same way that Tony Blair has seems to have had some effect though, the same question asked a year ago found that 61% thought that Brown would be significantly different to Blair. However, given how much more popular Gordon Brown is than Tony Blair, this is not necessarily good for the government.

On broader questions of the Labour party’s image Tony Blair also seems to have succeeded in changing the public’s perception of Labour. Throughout the 1980s the Conservative party revelled in its role as “the natural party of government”; now around 50% of voters see Labour as the natural party of government, while more than two-thirds think that “Labour used to be the party for the working class and the unions; now it is a party for the middle class and business”.

Meanwhile, ICM concentrated on whether people though Labour had delivered on the pledges they made way back in 1997. With one very important exception people thought they hadn’t.

Less than half of respondents thought that Labour had got more people off welfare and into work (42%) and governed for the many not the few (41%) while only around a third thought they had delivered “education, education, education” (34%), saved the NHS (34%) or brought an ethical dimension to British politics. Only around a quarter of respondents thought they had been “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” (26%), brought an end to sleaze (25%) or produced an integrated transport policy (25%).

The exception to the rule, however, was arguably the most important issue of all; 56% of respondents thought that Labour had indeed delivered a strong economy. Even 39% of Conservative supporters thought that Labour had delivered on the economy. Not that Tony Blair seems to have been given much credit for this – his net approval rating has fallen back to -19%.

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