Conservative lead at eight points, polls show

Tories retain large lead over Labour but hung parliament cannot be ruled out.

The Conservatives retain a comfortable lead over Labour but a hung parliament cannot be ruled out, according to two new opinion polls.

The latest Sunday Times/YouGov survey had the Tories unchanged on 40 per cent, with Labour up two points to 32 per cent and the Liberal Democrats down two points to 18 per cent. If repeated at the election on a uniform swing, the latest figures would leave David Cameron 19 seats short of an overall majority.

Meanwhile, a new ICM survey for the Sunday Telegraph also showed an eight point Conservative lead. The poll put the Tories up one to 38 per cent, with Labour down three to 30 per cent and the Liberal Democrats unchanged on 21 per cent. The survey, which follows an ICM survey for the Guardian that put the Conservatives just four points ahead of Labour, shows how the Tories have benefited from the first week of the campaign.

Elsewhere, the latest ComRes survey for the Independent on Sunday showed the Tories and Labour squeezing the Liberal Democrats. The poll put Nick Clegg's party down four points to 16 per cent, the Lib Dems' poorest performance in a ComRes poll since January. The Tories are up two points to 39 per cent, with Labour also up two to 32 per cent.

The New Statesman poll of polls now shows the Tories 15 seats short of a majority in a hung parliament.



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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.