UK's Brown given poll boost after banking scare

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LONDON, Sep 22 (Reuters) A banking scare in Britain over the last week has done little to dent the popularity Prime Minister Gordon Brown has gained in his first three months of power, an opinion poll indicated.

Today's Daily Telegraph poll, on the eve of the ruling Labour Party's annual conference, showed Labour on 39 percent -- six percentage points ahead of the opposition Conservatives.

Brown, who took over as premier three months ago from Tony Blair after overseeing a decade of solid growth for Britain as finance minister, has revived Labour's fortunes and turned an opinion poll deficit into a lead that had previously been as high as eight percentage points.

After a week in which crowds of investors lined up to withdraw their savings from Northern Rock, a big mortgage lender that was ensnared in a global credit squeeze, Brown's government had faced heavy criticism over its economic competence.

''If Gordon Brown feared that the Northern Rock crisis would undermine his standing with the public, he can breathe more easily,'' said YouGov pollster Peter Kellner who took the soundings for the Daily Telegraph.

''Should the Prime Minister wish to call an early general election, he will find nothing in YouGov's latest figures to dissuade him,'' Kellner said of the figures that could translate into a fourth consecutive election victory for Labour.

Brown need not call an election until 2010, but some analysts predict he may try to capitalise on the popularity gains he has made with a snap poll.

On the eve of his first party conference as premier, Brown was given an extra boost by an ICM poll for BBC Newsnight that showed 34 per cent of respondents thought Labour had the best economic policies, compared to 22 per cent for the Conservatives.

Key Brown ally Douglas Alexander told today's Guardian newspaper funds for an election campaign had been building up.

''There have been significant donations in recent weeks,'' the International Development Secretary said.

''Not withstanding our financial difficulties in the past, we have been working hard and we will be ready whenever the prime minister decides to call the election.'' Storm clouds could be gathering over Brown's government, however.

Trade Unions are angry about his squeeze on public sector pay rises while homeowners worry that higher interest rates could hit house prices.

The Labour conference in the southern English seaside resort of Bournemouth offers Brown the chance to take the party's temperature and see if it has the appetite for a quick election.

REUTERS AK PM0458

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