Panic stations for Labour at poll slump

NEAR panic has set in among Labour's hierarchy as the party this week had its worst opinion poll rating since May 1987.Chancellor Gordon Brown sought to reassure Labour supporters, claiming voters would respond when they see the economy is doing well and the health service and schools are getting better.

By Graham Dines

NEAR panic has set in among Labour's hierarchy as the party this week had its worst opinion poll rating since May 1987.

Chancellor Gordon Brown sought to reassure Labour supporters, claiming voters would respond when they see the economy is doing well and the health service and schools are getting better.

However, the poll follows publication of a Conservative policy report advocating tax cuts of £21bn of tax cuts which was rubbished by Labour.

It's the health service which is causing huge anxiety and anger among the electorate. Despite record spending on the NHS, falling waiting lists and the recruitment of thousands of extra doctors and nurses, only 14% of voters think the money invested since 1997 has been well spent - even 58% of Labour voters think the money has been misspent.

An opinion poll by ICM for The Guardian found that only 25% of voters think that the NHS has improved since Labour came to power, 30% think it has got worse, and 39% believe Labour has made little difference.

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It's hardly surprising that given the huge levels of debts burdening primary care and hospital trusts in East Anglia, with ward closures and staff redundancies, that there is scepticism here on Labour's health record. That there is so much nationwide concern must have really shaken Labour's strategists, especially the Chancellor who has been responsible for the spending boom in the NS.

The ICM poll puts Labour on 29%, 10 points behind the Tories on 39%, with the Liberal Democrats on 22%. David Cameron's emphasis on green issues, of particular concern to the young, is paying off, with Labour languishing way behind the Tories among those aged under 34.

Given that the Tories, even in 1997, have outpolled their opinion poll rating at the past four general elections, this week's figures would be enough for the Conservatives to win all 18 seats in Essex - gaining three from Labour and one from the Liberal Democrats - and the seven in Suffolk.

The Tories would not win an election outright on these figures but they would be the largest party in Parliament. Labour's support equals a previous record low for the party in an ICM/Guardian poll recorded in May 1987, just a month before Margaret Thatcher secured her third general election victory.

Another sign of Labour panic was Home Secretary John Reid's clamp down on migrant workers from Bulgaria and Romania when they join the EU on January. He is pandering to poll findings that show public resentment at all the new workers from Poland and the other nine eastern European and Mediterranean accession countries in 2004.

Labour is desperate to sound and act tough on the issues, especially as it is seen to be failing in another area of public concern, law and order. But as Dr Reid cracks down on the number of migrants from Bulgaria and Romania, one of Bulgaria's chief cheerleaders has accused the Government of treating the impoverished country as a scapegoat for failed asylum and immigration polices.

Unlike workers from Poland and the other nine countries which joined the EU in 2004, the Government has put a limit on the number of Bulgarians and Romanian who will be allowed into the UK. Those approved will only be eligible for the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme, which limits a stay to 6 months in the agriculture and food processing industries.

Tory East of England Euro MP Geoffrey Van Orden, who is the European Parliament's observer on Bulgaria, said: “The Government's proposals are vague and impractical, relying on a Migration Advisory Committee which hasn't even been set up yet. At the same time, Bulgarians and Romanians have now become scapegoats this Government's catastrophic asylum and immigration policies over the past nine years.

“As a general rule, it is not migrants from EU countries that are a problem in our society and which have put such pressure on our public services and national cohesion.

“In any case, if the last round of EU enlargement is an example, half those wanting work are already in the country. And more than 10% of workers on the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme are already Bulgarians. So I'm not sure what impact Dr Reid's window dressing is supposed to have.

“His measures are just window dressing. We need effective controls on our borders.”

SCOT WANTS A PARLIAMENT FOR ENGLAND

A CAMPAIGN to set up a separate parliament for England in a federal United Kingdom is being backed by one of the architects of Scottish devolution.

Canon Dr Kenyon Wright said he wanted a strong English Parliament and the Welsh Assembly upgraded to parliamentary status.

Canon Wright echoed the concerns of a growing number of English voters when he called it undemocratic that Scottish MPs could vote on England-only issues but not vice-versa.

But the Tory-backed policy of banning Scottish MPs from voting at Westminster on English issues would create more problems than it would solve, he said.

“The 2004 referendum on regional government for north-east England showed regional government in England is a non-starter,” said Canon Wright.

“I became convinced that England has a growing sense of national identity as strong as ours and therefore an English parliament, if the people want it, is as much our right as we claimed it to be ours.”

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