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LONDON (Reuters) - Conservatives are losing their reputation for economic competence, according to an opinion poll issued on Wednesday, bad news for a party that has staked its reputation on an austerity plan to tackle the budget deficit.
In the Ipsos MORI poll in the Financial Times newspaper, 31 percent of respondents said that the Conservatives still had the best economic policies, only one point ahead of the opposition Labour party at 30 percent.
That lead was down from 10 points last September.
The centre-right Conservative Party, the senior partner in a coalition with the centrist Liberal Democrats, has justified deep spending cuts by saying it is fixing the "mess" left by the previous Labour administration.
The government has made tackling the deficit, which peaked at more than 11 percent of national output, its main mission but Britain's return to recession last month and a poorly received annual budget in March raised doubts over Prime Minister David Cameron's economic policies.
Voters punished the party in local elections earlier this month at which the Conservatives lost hundreds of seats.
Labour, which has languished in the polls for much of the past two years, has surged in recent weeks, but party leader Ed Miliband's personal ratings are still relatively low.
Reporting by Mohammed Abbas; Editing by Robin Pomeroy