Tories in a tight spot as Ashcroft row builds
THE Conservative lead is crumbling in the crucial marginal seats that David Cameron is relying on to deliver general election victory for the party, a poll last night disclosed.
The result was a fresh setback for the Tory leader after he was drawn deeper into the row over the billionaire peer Lord Ashcroft, when it emerged that he had known for less than a month that Lord Ashcroft had maintained his non-dom tax status for 10 years.
The chances of the party drawing a line under the controversy were also wrecked by the announcement that Lord Ashcroft would be summoned to the Commons to explain why he negotiated a secret deal to enter the House of Lords without paying tax in this country on his overseas fortune.
With Gordon Brown expected to announce the election date this month, Tories have insisted they were performing much more strongly in marginal constituencies where the drive for votes has been masterminded and funded by Lord Ashcroft.
The YouGov poll for 'Channel 4 News' found the Tory lead in 60 Labour-held marginals had shrunk from seven to just two points over the past year.
The slide in Conservative support is further evidence Britain could be heading for a hung parliament after the election expected on May 6. The survey put the Tories on 39pc (down four points since last year) and Labour on 37pc (up one).
YouGov calculated that the results would leave the Tories the largest party after the election, but 11 seats short of an overall Commons majority. The party faces the challenge of capturing 117 seats to achieve a majority of one: a task described by a shadow cabinet member as a "mountain to climb". (© Independent News Service)