by RAY FLEMING
WHY did it take so long? A discredited government in a state of disarray and an opposition with a personable new young leader should have produced the kind of result of yesterday's Guardian/ICM poll months ago: Conservatives reaching the coveted 40 per cent, Labour with its worst showing for almost 20 years at 31 per cent and the Liberal Democrats recovering to reach their usual 22 per cent. The poll was conducted over last weekend so it is probably a fair snapshot of the state of the nation's current opinion as Mr Blair returns to take charge of a government that is the despair of many of its loyal supporters. The Conservative party will be pleased with the results but will also know that its share of the vote would give it only a thin majority in the House of Commons of ten seats or so. Furthermore it will need to assess whether the gap of nine points is more the result the public's scorn for Mr Blair's decision to leave John Prescott nominally in charge of the country than of a considered weighing of the respective policies of the parties. The effect of the Lebanese war and of the terrorism scare also need to be assessed before it can be said conclusively that the tide of public opinion is moving strongly towards the Conservatives. However, a repeat of such figures in one months' time would make the party conference season very interesting indeed.

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