Cameron factor opens up Tories biggest lead since 1980s

DAVID Cameron's Conservatives have opened up the biggest lead over Gordon Brown and the Labour Party since the 1980s, a new opinion poll shows today.

The monthly ICM survey puts the Tories up one point from February at 41 per cent, with Labour unchanged on 31 per cent and the Liberal Democrats down one at 18 per cent.

That will be enough to dismay Labour MPs, but the figures become even worse when respondents are polled using the names of the leaders likely to head the parties at the next general election. Then, Mr Cameron's Tories poll 43 per cent and Mr Brown's Labour Party is on 28 per cent.

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Repeated at a general election, that would be enough to give the Conservatives victory.

The ICM poll, published in the Guardian today, suggests that Mr Brown's recent attempts to confront Mr Cameron on the Tory leader's chosen issues have yet to influence public opinion.

In recent weeks, the Chancellor has made a major speech on family policy - where he rejected Mr Cameron's suggestion of tax breaks for married couples - and launched a new offensive aimed at reclaiming environmental policy.

The poll may also fuel doubts within the Labour Party about Mr Brown's ability to secure a fourth successive election victory over the Conservatives.

Last month's ICM poll triggered a period of semi-public soul searching within Labour, with senior party figures including former cabinet ministers Alan Milburn and Charles Clarke urging a "debate" about the party's future.

Brownites saw that as an attempt to encourage a rival to the Chancellor's claim to succeed Tony Blair as prime minister this summer.

Friends of Mr Brown insist the comparison with Mr Cameron is unfair because, as chancellor, he is limited in his ability to appeal to voters on a broad range of issues. Once Mr Brown is installed in No 10, they say, he will regain the ground being lost to the Tory leader.