The Conservative Party has been hit by a backlash from voters after last month's Budget and is less popular now than at any point since taking office, according to the latest "poll of polls" for i.
It puts the Tories' level of support at its lowest since the 2010 election, while Labour's six-point lead is higher that at any time since February last year.
George Osborne appears to have caused a decline in Tory fortunes by combining a cut in the 50p top rate of tax with a so-called "granny tax" for pensioners. Senior Tory MPs have protested to David Cameron that the two measures, while justified, should not have been announced in the same package. "The communications around the Budget were dreadful," one said.
The Conservatives may also have angered the public by prompting panic buying at the petrol pumps ahead of threatened strikes by tanker drivers.
"March was very much a month of two halves," said John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, who compiles the monthly weighted average of surveys conducted by ComRes, ICM, YouGov and Populus. In their polls before the Budget, Labour averaged 39 per cent and the Tories 37 per cent, but in their most recent surveys, Labour is up to 40 per cent, the Tories down to 34 per cent and the Lib Dems unchanged on 11 per cent.
Overall figures for March show Labour on 40 per cent, the Tories on 36 per cent and the Lib Dems on 11 per cent, enough to give Labour an overall majority of 16 in a general election fought on the proposed new constituency boundaries.
Professor Curtice said: "Perhaps most disturbingly for the Tories, there are signs that their and the Government's reputation for competence have taken a knock."
There are signs of a decline in Mr Cameron's personal ratings; in the number of people who believe the Coalition Government is handling the economy well; those who have confidence in Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne and who think the Tories are capable and competent. However, there is little evidence of any advance in Labour's reputation. Ed Miliband, above, is still less highly regarded than Mr Cameron and his standing is only marginally better than a month ago. Professor Curtice said: "The end of March witnessed an unwelcome political gale for the Conservatives. For the first time since the formation of the Coalition their competence and ability (as opposed to that of their Lib Dem partners) seems to have been called into question in the minds of the electorate."
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