Leading Tabloid Backs Blair As Labour Landslide Likely

LONDON -- British Prime Minister John Major was dealt a double blow Tuesday to his election campaign after the country's leading tabloid newspaper backed his opponent, Tony Blair, and opinion polls showed him trailing badly.


But Major, bidding to win the Conservatives their fifth election victory in a row, shrugged it all off the and promised to take to his trademark soapbox to spread the good news about the country's buoyant economy.


The Sun, which backed Major in his surprise 1992 election victory, threw its weight behind Blair in saying that people needed "a leader with vision, purpose and courage who can fire their imaginations."


"I was unconcerned about the Sun's editorial position," Major said of the best-selling tabloid, which is owned by Australian-born media magnate Rupert Murdoch.


The Labour Party denied suggestions that it had struck a deal with Murdoch in exchange for his support, such as promising fewer regulations for his broadcasting activities.


Asked about polls that showed Labour with a 28 point lead in the runup to the May 1 election, Major told GMTV: "I really doubt that. I have lived through bad opinion polls through most of the last six years. Indeed, before the last general election, the polls were pretty awful."


An NOP poll for Reuters showed Labour 25 points ahead of the Conservatives, who have been rocked by divisions over Britain's role in Europe and bedeviled by sex and financial scandals.


The main reason given by those questioned about their voting choices was that it was time for a change after 18 years of Conservative rule.


The NOP poll showed that Labour had taken its clearest lead yet on some of the key issues likely to figure in the campaign. Thirty-five percent of voters now trust Labour more to manage the economy, compared to 26 percent for the Conservatives.





No party in Britain has ever been so far ahead at the start of an election campaign.





A Daily Telegraph poll showed Labour with the vast lead, representing a swing of 18 percent to Labour since the last election. If it holds, it would give them a landslide victory.