The findings, which will embarrass the Conservatives as they assemble for the party conference in Blackpool, emerge from a MORI study of 124 MPs from all parties, including 60 Conservatives and four Cabinet ministers.
It shows that Tory MPs also rate the Labour leader, Tony Blair, as a better performer than several of their most senior figures, including Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, Douglas Hurd, the former foreign secretary, and Michael Portillo, the Defence Secretary.
Mr Blair topped the list, which was put together between May and July this year, scoring 40 per cent support. Mr Heseltine was second on 29 per cent, 10 per cent ahead of Mr Major. Even among Tory MPs he scored better than the Prime Minister, with 38 per cent to 37 per cent.
But there was some good news for Mr Major: his overall approval rating is up significantly from this time last year and has more than doubled since the winter. But Mr Clarke has slipped from one in five in winter 1994 to one in eight.
After Mr Blair, Robin Cook is the most highly rated Labour politician among Opposition MPs, approved of by more than one in three. Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, was backed by one in eight.
For the former Conservative prime minister and Euro-enthusiast Sir Edward Heath, and for Labour left-winger Tony Benn, there is good news and bad news. They score 10 per cent and 9 per cent respectively. However, both men are rated more highly by their political opponents than by their own party.
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