Ed Miliband suffered a double setback last night as the Conservatives edged ahead of Labour in a poll for i which shows that only one in four voters regards him as a credible Prime Minister-in-waiting.
As the Labour leader prepared for his crucial speech to his party's conference in Liverpool today, ComRes found that the Tories enjoy a lead for the first time since October last year, just before the Chancellor, George Osborne, outlined the Coalition's spending cuts.
The Tories are on 37 per cent; Labour on 36 per cent; Liberal Democrats 12 per cent and other parties 15 per cent Such a result would leave Labour 12 seats short of an overall majority at a general election.
One year after be became Labour leader, Mr Miliband's personal ratings worry some of his party's MPs. Asked whether they agreed with the statement that he is a credible Prime Minister-in-waiting, 24 per cent agreed and 57 per cent disagreed.
Close allies of Mr Miliband insist they are not worried, saying the party has bounced back from a crushing election defeat last year without sinking into the in-fighting that has followed previous election losses. They believe voters will warm to the Labour leader when they know more about him – and hope today's speech will prove a crucial step on that road.
The Labour leader will use it to say the party is on the side of the people and against "bad businesses". Although he will insist that Labour will remain pro-business, he is ready to challenge "fast buck" capitalism that rewards greed and short-termism and will speak of a "quiet crisis" suffered by millions of victims of a failed system.
He will say: "Let me tell you what the 21st-century choice is: Are you on the side of the wealth creators or the asset strippers? For years as a country we have been neutral in that battle. They've been taxed the same. Regulated the same. Treated the same. Celebrated the same. They won't be by me."
He will pledge to change an economy and society which often do not reward "the right people with the right values" and will paint the Tories as being on the side of the current system.
"The small businesses that are the lifeblood of our economy are the wealth creators," he will say. "The scientists and innovators are our wealth creators. And the young apprentices are the wealth creators."
Labour would bring in incentives for firms to provide "long-term value" and investment. Those winning government contracts would have to offer apprenticeships. This "something for something" approach would be replicated in the welfare and education systems, Mr Miliband will say.
Unison general secretary, Dave Prentis, won a standing ovation when he said the party should stand "shoulder-to-shoulder" with striking workers.