Labour sinks to 25-year low in poll

LONDON (Reuters) - Support for the Labour Party slumped to a 25-year low on Sunday with voters disillusioned over Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s handling of the economy against a backdrop of worldwide financial turmoil.

Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband (L) and Prime Minister Gordon Brown give a news conference on the second day of an EU summit in Brussels March 14, 2008. REUTERS/Sebastien Pirlet

Opposition Conservative leader David Cameron, gearing up for an important test of voter support in local council elections, was the main beneficiary -- but his party warned that it had little room to manoeuvre over any possible tax cuts.

A national election does not have to be held until 2010, but the next major test for Cameron and Brown comes in local council elections in May.

After initially riding high when he succeeded Tony Blair last year, Brown’s popularity has plummeted in polls and Alistair Darling, his successor as finance minister, has suffered a rough ride too.

Darling has battled to deal with the global credit crisis and Britain’s first bank run in more than a century, which resulted in the government having to nationalise the country’s fifth-biggest mortgage lender.

The resurgent Conservatives, trounced by Labour in the past three national elections, enjoyed a massive 16-point lead in the latest Sunday Times poll from YouGov.

As Cameron wrapped up his party’s spring conference with a pledge for more “family-friendly policies,” the poll showed the Conservatives on 43 per cent, Labour on 27 percent and the centrist Liberal Democrats on 16 percent.

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That was Labour’s lowest poll rating for 25 years and demonstrated a real thumbs down from voters after last week’s Budget.

“The main cause for the swing is the collapse in faith in Brown and Darling’s stewardship of the economy,” the paper said.

Another poll in the News of the World showed the Conservative lead had trebled in a month.

The Conservatives are consistently a party that pledges vote-winning tax cuts but this time, with the global economy squeezed by the credit crunch, they are adopting a much more cautious approach.

The party’s shadow chief treasury spokesman Philip Hammond warned that, if elected, a Conservative government could rule out tax cuts for the length of a whole parliament to build up a “bonus” that could be offered in a follow-up election.

“When the money’s piled up in the pot, then you give it away in tax cuts. It only makes sense to look at this over an economic cycle,” he told the Sunday Telegraph.

“It will be the great bonus of the second election,” he added.

Editing by Matthew Jones