Blair won’t quit ahead of election defeat

Labour are heading for their worst election performance in two decades, the latest opinion polls suggest.

The party risk losing power in the Scottish election next week and are poised to lose seats across England and Wales.

However, Tony Blair has denied that he will announce his resignation before the elections in an attempt to deflect criticisms from the party.

It had been speculated Mr Blair would announce his resignation next week, potentially on Tuesday, the tenth anniversary of his landslide 1997 election victory.

A YouGov poll for the Daily Telegraph puts the Conservatives in the lead for the 12th consecutive month, an achievement not seen since Margaret Thatcher’s leadership in the late 1980s.

The Conservatives are on 37 per cent to Labour’s 32 per cent. Although they need to achieve 40 per cent to gain power, a closer analysis suggests Gordon Brown will not rejuvenate Labour, while David Cameron’s personal popularity could lead the party into an election victory.

When asked to choose between a Cameron and Brown led government, Conservative support increases to 45 per cent while Labour climb just two points from Mr Blair’s leadership to 35 per cent.

Criticisms of the Budget, including Mr Brown’s supposed “tax con”, as well as continued questioning of the chancellor’s record on pensions are thought to have dented his popularity.

Mr Brown is also closely associated with Mr Blair’s leadership and its declining popularity, while other signs indicate the electorate are suffering from voter fatigue.

A good performance in next week’s local elections would show the credibility of the new Conservative party and raise doubts over Labour’s ability to secure a fourth term.

Reports had claimed people close to Mr Blair were urging him to resign ahead of the election, in the hope this could both boost the party’s popularity and deflect from a poor performance.

However, his official spokesman today insisted this such speculation was “simply wrong”. “I have one word for the stories,” he said. “Wrong. The stories this morning are wrong.”

It is expected that the prime minister will not announce his resignation until after the official opening of the Stormont assembly before announcing his departure and triggering a leadership contest.

Labour are braced to lose seats in the Welsh assembly and across local councils, but the YouGov poll also predicts the SNP will become the single largest party in the Scottish parliament, with leader Alex Salmond replacing Jack McConnell as first minister.

Campaigning in Scotland yesterday, Mr Blair attempted to blame Labour’s poor poll ratings on mid-term fatigue. Mr Blair said: “When you’re mid-term, third term, it’s always tough.”