March 9, 2010 11:00 pm

Polls fail to dent Tory confidence

William Hague on Tuesday said that the Conservatives would win a working majority if the general election were held now – in defiance of his party’s shrinking opinion poll rating.

The unofficial deputy Conservative leader suggested the weighting systems used by pollsters to try to reflect disparities between what people say and how they actually vote were unduly depressing his party’s ratings. “Opinion polls seem to be a bit more of an art than a science these days,” he said.

Mr Hague said his experience heading the Tories’ north of England campaign belied the findings of a Populus poll for the Times that suggested the two main parties were neck-and-neck in 100 Labour-held marginals.

“I’ve spent an enormous amount of time this year so far in northern marginal seats ... and I’m more upbeat about our prospects than I was six months ago,” he said. “If the election was today [Tuesday], we would win vast numbers of those seats.” Asked if he was confident this would deliver an overall victory if the election were held now, he replied: “We would win a majority.”

The shadow foreign secretary defended his decision to take Lord Ashcroft, the deputy party chairman and Tory donor, on official foreign trips with him. Mr Hague has been placed centre-stage in the furore over the peer’s “non dom” status, as both the party leader who negotiated the terms of Lord Ashcroft’s peerage and a close political friend. Critics have questioned whether it was appropriate for Lord Ashcroft to be present at Mr Hague’s meetings with foreign delegations.

“The really important point is that he, and others like him, the donors to the party, have never in all my experience tried to influence a policy,” Mr Hague said. “I’ve never in the more than 10 years that I’ve know him found him trying to change a policy.” He refused to be drawn further on the matter, saying: “I’m not going into all of that again.”

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