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Blair is most unpopular Labour PM

George Jones / London Telegraph | May 10 2006

Tony Blair, who broke all records for public approval when he entered No 10 nine years ago, is now the most unpopular Labour Prime Minister of modern times, a YouGov survey for The Daily Telegraph shows today.

Only 26 per cent of voters are satisfied with Mr Blair's performance, lower than Harold Wilson's 27 per cent rating in May 1968 after devaluation of the pound.

The spectacular collapse in Mr Blair's personal rating was reinforced by a further drop in support for Labour. After last Thursday's drubbing in the English local elections, Labour is now six points behind a resurgent Conservative Party led by David Cameron.

YouGov's survey puts the Conservatives on 37 per cent, Labour 31 and the Liberal Democrats 17.

It is the second opinion poll in 24 hours to show a collapse in Labour support after the turmoil of recent weeks, including the "loans for peerages" scandal, the foreign prisoners fiasco, John Prescott's affair, and feuding over when Mr Blair will hand over to Gordon Brown.

The sharp drop in Mr Blair's personal standing is a further blow after what is generally acknowledged to have been his worst two weeks in power.

Labour MPs who attended a tense meeting of the parliamentary party at Westminster on Monday night claimed that the "countdown" to the end of the Blair's era had begun and he would be gone by May next year or a few months after.

Mr Blair is Labour's most successful leader, having won three consecutive general elections to give the party the prospect of at least 12 years of uninterrupted power.

Five months after his first landslide victory in May 1997, his satisfaction rating reached a record 83 per cent.

Gallup, The Daily Telegraph's former pollsters, have asked a standard question about satisfaction with the prime minister of the day since 1938. Before Mr Blair, the previous highest rating was Harold Macmillan on 79 per cent.

Margaret Thatcher fell to 24 per cent in April 1990 at the height of the poll tax riots - and was ousted by Tory MPs seven months later. Mr Blair's predecessor, John Major, registered a low point of 15 per cent in January 1995, two years before he lost offfice.

Labour's two other post-war premiers, James Callaghan and Clement Attlee, never dropped below 30 per cent.

YouGov's poll showed most voters want Mr Blair to go by the end of next year, while only six per cent believe Labour is united - the lowest figure since the party split of the early 1980s when Michael Foot was leader.

Mr Brown kept up the pressure on Mr Blair, saying he did not want a repeat of Mrs Thatcher's ejection from office at the hands of her Cabinet.

"Tony said that he is going to be doing it in a stable and orderly way, that means that he is going to be talking not just to me but to senior colleagues about it," the Chancellor told GMTV.

"Remember when Mrs Thatcher left, it was unstable, it was disorderly and it was undignified."

He said Mr Blair would now have talks with senior colleagues about the transfer of power, though he said the Prime Minister had not yet discussed timings with him.

Ian Davidson, a back-bench critic of Mr Blair, said that now he had accepted that he would not serve a full third term, the immediate pressure on him had lifted.

"I think we have to recognise that he has done an enormous service to the Labour Party in winning us three elections and it would be churlish to try to throw him out too soon," he said.

Mr Blair's reshuffled cabinet made a shaky start yesterday when Margaret Beckett, the unexpected choice as Foreign Secretary, admitted she had been thrown in at the deep end and was "flying by the seat of my pants" at crisis talks in New York on Iran's nuclear programme.

Ruth Kelly, the new Communities Secretary, a devout Catholic, angered gay rights groups when she twice refused to answer a question about whether she regarded homosexuality as a sin.

Downing Street was also forced to announce emergency changes to the ministerial line-up after it emerged that Mr Blair had given jobs in two different departments to the same junior minister in the Lords, Lady Ashton.

The bookmakers William Hill yesterday made the Tories favourites to win the next election, the first time they have been in front since losing power in 1997.

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