Our latest NOP poll suggests that Labour's lead has fallen to three points, lower than at any time since last October. While such a lead might be sufficient to deliver Labour a majority of around 80, any further slippage over the next four weeks would probably mean that Mr Blair would no longer win the secure third term he is hoping to enjoy.
Our poll, the first to be taken since Mr Howard sacked his fellow MP, Howard Flight, suggests that Labour hopes - that the row over his decision had taken the wind out of the Conservatives' sails - are unfounded. Mr Howard's party has emerged from the affair just one point down on its previous reading in the middle of March. As is so often the case, what seemed to matter in the heady confines of the Westminster village has caused barely a ripple among the public.
Which begs the question - what exactly does matter to the British public? If you read the red-tops, the most common questions that come up are those of education, health, crime, asylum. Would it be churlish to suggest that the majority of the public are disinterested, or simply don't care, about the political wrangling over Flight?
Not exactly. Curtice insists that By a majority of three to two, the public feel the sacking was wrong. Even among those who say they intend to vote Conservative, only 59 per cent back their leader's decision. The affair has clearly caused dissension within the party's ranks. But so long as it does not re-emerge, it would not appear to have done much damage to the party's standing. In other words, as long as Howard doesn't sack a constituency's candidate again without counsulting them first, its fine. But this implies that its Howard's behaviour that was objected to, not what Flight actually did.
This doesn't indicate that Sandra Howard should start planning to re-decorate Number 10 just yet. The number who switched from Conservative to Lib Dem from 2001 is not made clear, but Curtice insists that an equivalent of 3 have made the switch from Labour to Lib Dem. (Although, as he doesn't say what the statistic is for Con to Lib, this is fairly meaningless). Apparently, 59% of those surveyed have said they will actually vote. Which is a step in the right direction - ast least the country isn't sinking into a torpor of total apathy. However, it is a failrly standard truism of political science courses that Oppositions don't win elections; Governments lose them. The conclusion that can be drawn is that this will be a negative election - if people vote, it will be against the government, but not because they favour either the Tories or Lib Dems. And that's the real dilemma - both Howard and Kennedy have got a month to impress upon the voters that they are a worthy alternative to Labour, and not just a protest vote. And Blair has exactly the same amount of time to convince the electorate that Labour's policies are worthy of a third term in office, and not just a case "better the devil you know".