May's lead over Labour narrows after terror attack

Polls taken after Manchester blast suggest British leader could fail to get landslide win

LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May's lead over the opposition Labour Party has narrowed sharply, according to opinion polls published since the Manchester attack, suggesting she might not win the landslide victory predicted just a month ago.

Four opinion polls published last Saturday showed that Mrs May's lead had contracted by a range of 2 to 6 percentage points - an indication that the June 8 election could be much closer than initially thought when she calledfor the snap vote.

University of Strathclyde professor John Curtice, speaking to Reuters, said: "Theresa May is certainly the overwhelming favourite to win but crucially, we are in the territory now where how well she is going to win is uncertain.

"She is no longer guaranteed to get the landslide majority that she was originally setting out to get."

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Dr Curtice is also president of the British Polling Council, and specialises in the study and scientific analysis of elections.

Mrs May called the snap polls in a bid to strengthen her hand in negotiations on Britain's exit from the European Union (Brexit), win more time to deal with the impact of the split, and strengthen her grip on the Conservative Party.

But if she does not handsomely beat the 12-seat majority her predecessor David Cameron won in 2015, her electoral gamble will have failed, and her authority could be undermined just as she enters formal Brexit negotiations.

The sterling last Friday suffered its steepest fall since January after a YouGov opinion poll showed that the Conservatives' lead over Labour was down to 5 percentage points.

Polls since the attack showed little evidence that Mrs May - who as a former interior minister oversaw the police and domestic intelligence agency - had gained support.

"The campaign has changed," said Mr Johnny Heald, managing director of polling agency ORB International. "Expect to see a forensic focus on Brexit and security over the next two weeks," he added.

Pollster Opinium said Mrs May's lead had slipped to 10 percentage points from 13 points the week before, and 19 percentage points on April 19. ComRes said the Conservatives' lead had fallen to 12 percentage points, while ORB said the party's lead had halved to 6 percentage points.

A YouGov survey of 2,003 people between last Thursday and Friday showed Mrs May's lead had narrowed 7 percentage points from 9 percentage points a week ago. A separate ICM poll published yesterday showed the Conservatives with a 14 percentage point lead over Labour.

As campaigning heats up, Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon will pledge to end austerity with £118 billion (S$198 billion) of spending across Britain in the next five years - to boost public services and support families - when the party sets out its manifesto this week. The party plans to balance the Budget by the end of Parliament in 2022.

 Ms Sturgeon said: "The SNP manifesto will set out a clear alternative to continued Tory austerity, and the unnecessary ideological and self-defeating cuts that have held back the economy, damaged public services, and hammered millions by squeezing family budgets."

She will set out her party's election plans in Perth, in central Scotland, tomorrow.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2017, with the headline 'May's lead over Labour narrows after terror attack'. Print Edition | Subscribe