LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives have pulled level with the opposition Labour party for the first time in 18 months, according to a YouGov poll published on Thursday, as the economy shows signs of recovery.
The poll puts both parties on 36 percent of the vote shortly before each hosts its annual conference to set out election strategy ahead of a 2015 national vote. The last time the two parties were level was in February 2012, YouGov said.
Other polls still show a Labour lead of around 6 percentage points but that margin has been steadily shrinking after a row about party funding which has led to questions over Ed Miliband’s leadership and a slide in his personal ratings.
“Labour has seen a double digit lead disappear in weeks. Its summer of discontent could turn into an autumn of despair,” YouGov President Peter Kellner told the Sun newspaper which published the survey.
Suggestions that trade unions have too much influence on Labour policy have dragged down the party’s poll ratings while a succession of senior Labour figures have spoken out to criticise Miliband for failing to flesh out the party’s own policies.
The Liberal Democrats, currently the junior partner in the ruling coalition, were forecast to win 10 percent of the vote, trailing the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) on 12 percent.
LibDem leader, Nick Clegg, said this week he intended to break the two-party mould of British politics once and for all and keep his party in coalition government - an objective he is more likely to achieve if Labour and the Conservatives remain level-pegging and unable to command a clear electoral majority.
The Conservatives’ fortunes have been buoyed by signs that the British economy is recovering after a prolonged recession - something Chancellor George Osborne says vindicates his tough austerity policies since coming to power in 2010.
Nevertheless, unity within the Conservative party remains delicate. Last month, rebel lawmakers helped defeat the party’s policy on military intervention in Syria and earlier this year there were rebellions over a scheduled referendum on European Union membership and plans to legalise gay marriage.
Reporting by William James; editing by Stephen Addison