The widely-publicised result of what The Times claims to be a new kind of opinion poll, taken over last weekend, showed support for Labour at 35 per cent, Conservatives at 34 per cent and Liberals 25 per cent. On this basis, Labour's standing is at its lowest point since before the 1997 election (excluding the freak “fuel tax” period). The Prime Minister will not be able to find comfort in the fact that this is a new and untried poll. There is very little difference in the methods being used by the polling company Populus for The Times and those used by other longer-established organisations; the main variation is that Populus gives greater weight to the opinions of those who seem most likely to vote. Its margin of error is the standard plus or minus three per cent enough to render useless any close-run poll result. Mr Blair will not need to be told that the main reason for Labour's decline in popularity is his policy on Iraq. He has not convinced the majority of the media or the public that war against Saddam Hussein is justified, although he would probably regain some ground if a second UN Security Council resolution authorised military action. The Prime Minister is not being helped by having to carry almost the whole weight of the argument himself; only the voices of Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon and Party Chairman John Reid are heard in support. At the same time there are several qualified and persuasive speakers from the Labour backbench MPs who are asking awkward questions which do not get convincing answers.

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