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by Ray Fleming
THERE was some good news and some bad news for Tony Blair yesterday.
The good news from an NOP poll was that, of those who intend to vote at the general election, 23 per cent support Labour, 18 per cent Conservative and 12 per cent Liberal Democrat.

The bad news was that if Gordon Brown were leader of the party an extra eight per cent would vote Labour while votes for the other two main parties would remain much the same.

Those extra eight per cent came mostly from the 26 per cent who anwered “Don't know” when asked the question that assumed Mr Blair would lead Labour into the election.

There was some good news and some bad news for Gordon Brown yesterday. The good news from a Populus poll was that 58 per cent of Labour supporters believe he is the best person to take over the leadership of the party when Mr Blair steps down and that 45 per cent of all voters share that view.

Jack Straw, with about eight per cent support is the nearest, but distant, contender.
The bad news was that Populus also showed Mr Blair's personal rating at its highest point since September 2003 at 5.07 on a ten-point scale compared to 4.85 in November.

That is a remarkable vote of confidence in the Prime Minister just two weeks since he risked unpopularity by remaining on holiday when the Asian tsunumi crisis broke and in the same week that he deliberately tried to “put down” his Chancellor.

Happily, there was some good news for both Mr Blair and Mr Brown yesterday.
The Populus poll, like the NOP's, showed Labour with an unchanged five point lead over the Conservatives “if there were a general election tomorrow”.