One in five men and women who voted Conservative in 1992 now say they will vote Labour on 1 May, and a shift on this scale, involving 2.2 million voters, would be the largest swing from one major party to the other since the end of the Second World War.
This direct transfer of votes is squeezing the Liberal Democrats, whose support, according to this MORI poll, has slumped to 9 per cent, half their vote in 1992. A similar process was seen in last month's Wirral South by-election and indicates that disillusioned Tories who would not vote for Michael Foot in 1983 or Neil Kinnock in 1987 or 1992 have at last found in Mr Blair a Labour leader they feel safe with.
The Conservative share shows an increase of 2 per cent on MORI's previous poll three days earlier, but it has failed to shift from two points above or below 30 per cent in 11 polls since the campaign began. Labour's 25 point lead is consistent with all but one of these 11 polls.
Today's poll strongly suggests that John Major's gamble on a long election campaign eroding Labour's lead has so far failed, and that he is fighting the campaign on issues unlikely to appeal to the voters. The Prime Minister's preoccupations with the constitution and trade union power are not shared by the voters, who place these issues bottom of their agenda. Their principal concerns are health care and education - two of Labour's best issues.
Senior Conservatives were last week divided over how seriously to take their opinion poll setbacks. One strategist predicted that the gap in the polls will become narower. But a minister cast doubt on the reliability of poll evidence, arguing: "In the US election, Dole was 22 points behind Clinton for much of the campaign, and Clinton finished with only an eight- point lead. You can't imagine that was closed in the final few weeks."
Perhaps the most gloomy item for the Conservatives is that 53 per cent of the people who say they intend to vote Conservative believe that Britain needs a fresh set of leaders. Overall, four out of five voters want a transformation at the top.
Robert Worcester, chairman of MORI, said that anxiety about a large majority in Parliament is likely to cut into the Labour lead, but if the percentages in today's poll were translated into seats, Labour would have 470 members, a majority of 281 over all other parties, and more than twice Margaret Thatcher's majority in 1983. The Conservatives would be left with 151 seats.
The only faint hope for Mr Major in today's poll is a narrowing of the capability gap between himself and Mr Blair; 39 per cent believe that Mr Blair would make the most capable prime minister, compared to 27 per cent for Mr Major. MORI's polling three days earlier, however, gave Mr Blair a more substantial lead (46 per cent to 22 per cent).
Sleaze continues to haunt the Conservatives, since 89 per cent of those polled believe that MPs should resign if accusations of financial misconduct prove to be true, and the conviction is firmly held - only 3 per cent don't know. There is more tolerance of sexual misconduct; only 56 per cent think MPs whose dalliances are exposed should resign.
A majority of supporters of all the three major parties believethat Britain would be better governed if there were more women in Parliament (61 per cent say yes; only 23 per cent say no).
n MORI interviewed 1,069 adults face to face at home on 2-3 April.Reuse content