World

Conservatives' election lead halved

Plans to cut financial aid for elderly affects British ruling party's popularity

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May is facing a much closer election after the lead held by her governing Conservative Party halved since she set out proposals to reduce financial support for some elderly voters, opinion polls showed.

When Mrs May called the snap election for June 8, surveys indicated she would win a landslide comparable with Mrs Margaret Thatcher's 1983 majority of 144 seats in the 650-seat parliament.

That picture has changed following a week in which both the Conservatives and the main opposition Labour Party set out their election pitches to voters.

Mrs May sought to poach traditional Labour supporters with a mix of pledges more radical than those of her predecessor David Cameron.

One was a proposal to transfer a greater share of the cost of caring for the elderly from taxpayers to those who can afford to pay for their own care.

That raised concerns that some might see their houses sold off after their deaths to pay for the care they received rather than passed on to their descendants.

Mrs May's opponents have dubbed it a "dementia tax", saying it will particularly hit those who need long-term care at home.

Mrs May said yesterday that no one would be forced to sell their home to pay for social care, and she would cap the amount the elderly would have to pay.

A Survation poll published yesterday before her speech showed Mrs May's lead over Labour had halved to 9 per cent, adding to a string of polls suggesting the gap was narrowing.

A YouGov poll on Saturday also showed at 9 points, and found 40 per cent of the public were opposed to the change to elderly care provision, while 35 per cent were supportive.

The YouGov poll also found 49 per cent opposed Mrs May's plan to tighten the criteria for raising the state pension each year, compared to 30 per cent who supported it.

DOUBTS OVER SURVEYS

Mrs May called the snap election to strengthen her hand in negotiations on Britain's departure from the European Union and win more time to deal with the impact of the divorce.

But if she gains less than an impressive majority, her electoral gamble will have failed.

With polls showing the Conservatives' lead over Labour down from 20 points or more earlier in the campaign, Mrs May is projected to win a smaller majority of around 40 seats.

But many are sceptical of the headline poll numbers after surveys failed to correctly predict Britain's last national election in 2015, as well as last year's EU referendum and Mr Donald Trump's US election victory.

Pollsters have said their 2015 polls significantly overestimated support for Labour.

While they have since adjusted their methodology to seek to address this, it will only be known after June 9 if they have gone too far the other way.

Survation said in a blog alongside its data that respondents "were more likely to say that Labour, rather than the Conservatives, had the best policies for young people, families with young children, managing the National Health Service, improving the education system and older people and pensioners".

Mrs May is seeking to turn focus back on one of her strongest cards in the election, urging voters to back her to deliver Brexit, saying Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is incapable of doing so. - REUTERS

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