Conservatives Overtake Labor in UK Poll

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

London ( - In the aftermath of last week's fuel tax crisis, support for Britain's ruling Labor Party has dropped to its lowest level since 1992, according to an opinion poll published Tuesday

But even though the ICM poll is the second survey in three days to put Labor behind the Conservative Party - for the first time in eight years - the government insists it will not quickly cut the taxes that make gas in Britain the most expensive in Europe.

Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance secretary) Gordon Brown Tuesday rejected an ultimatum set by protestors when they ended their action late last week. Truckers and farmers picketing oil refineries demanded that the government cut fuel tax within 60 days or face new disruption.

Brown said in an interview with the London Times that he intended to stick to his spending plans.

"It is clear no government will or should\plain\lang2057\f2\fs23\cf0 ever give in to that sort of pressure," he said. "People do not want governments taking decisions because of something that has happened one week and changing their mind the next week.

"We are not going to change our public spending plans or put at risk the stability that we are achieving," he said. "The issue is getting money [from fuel taxes] for public services."

Brown insisted that he was listening to the grievances of farmers and truckers but refused to commit himself to any specific tax cuts.

The government says the revenue it accrues from petrol and diesel sales is critically important to its program of improving public services. It maintains that the high cost of gas - more than $5 a gallon - is the result of the threefold increase in the world crude oil price over the last year.

Consumer groups and political opponents point to the fact 72 percent of the price drivers pay at the pumps constitutes taxes and say the government has exploited the oil price rise to reap in more revenue than initially expected.

The week-long fuel protests dried up gas stations across the country, and began to affect public transport, food supply and health services too.

Polls late last week showed public confidence in Labor had taken a knock, but analysts saw them as a blip, taken as they were when disruptions were at a peak. But the new ICM poll, commissioned by the Guardian newspaper, gauged respondents views as the crisis eased and normality was beginning to return.

It showed the Conservatives have gained four points since last month, and now stand at 38 percent. Labor dropped 10 points to 34, the lowest rating in an ICM poll since 1992. The minority Liberal Democrats also scored well out of the crisis, picking up five points to 22 percent.

There was more bad news for Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose personal rating plummeted from plus two in July to minus 34 - his lowest since taking over the party leadership in 1994 and the lowest for any Labor leader since 1989.

More than 70 percent of respondents said they did not believe ministers' claims to be a "listening government," and 63 percent blamed the government for the rise in fuel prices.

The Guardian said the findings showed that "the government completely lost the argument over fuel prices," although in a separate editorial the left-leaning paper highlighted Labor achievements and said the government should not panic.

The Labor Party holds in annual conference next week, and is expected to make a series of big spending announcements in a bid to restore voter confidence in the government.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow