More than 100 senior economists have backed Gordon Brown's approach to tackling Britain's huge deficit and opposed David Cameron's plan to start cuts in public spending this year.
In a statement to be issued today ahead of the party leaders' televised debate on economic affairs, they warned that Tory proposals to find an immediate £6bn of efficiency savings could destabilise the economy, wreck the fragile recovery and cause job losses. "It is just a cut by another name," they said.
They added: "Only when the recovery is well under way, will it be safe to have extra cuts in government expenditure. The first step is to make sure that growth returns, and thus that tax receipts recover. Rash action now could imperil not only jobs but also the prospects for reducing the deficit."
The economists include Lord Layard, emeritus professor of economics at the London School of Economics; David Blanchflower, a former member of the Bank of England's monetary policy committee; Lord Skidelsky, emeritus professor of political economy, University of Warwick; Christopher Allsopp, director of the Oxford Institute for Energy; Philip Arestis, professor of economics, University of Cambridge, and David Bell, professor of economics, University of Stirling.
In another fillip for Labour, the latest ComRes poll for The Independent and ITV News shows that Mr Brown and Alistair Darling are more trusted to steer the economy through its current problems than their Tory and Liberal Democrat counterparts. Some 31 per cent say they trust the Prime Minister and Chancellor most, while 28 per cent name the Tories' David Cameron and George Osborne and 20 per cent the Liberal Democrat team of Nick Clegg and Vince Cable.
However, the Tories can take comfort from the latest party ratings, which show them extending their lead from four to seven points. Mr Cameron's party is on 36 per cent (up three points), Labour on 29 per cent (unchanged), the Liberal Democrats on 26 per cent (down three) and other parties on 9 per cent (unchanged). These figures would make the Tories the largest party in a hung parliament, 44 seats short of an overall majority.
The findings will raise Tory hopes that the Liberal Democrat bubble has burst – although Mr Clegg will try to bounce back in tonight's debate.
There was some good news for the Liberal Democrats in the latest survey. More than six out of 10 people (62 per cent) believe that introducing some form of proportional representation (PR) into Britain's electoral system would be a "good thing", while 20 per cent disagree.
PR is backed by a majority of supporters of all three main parties – including 51 per cent of people intending to vote Tory, 61 per cent of Labour backers, 79 per cent of Liberal Democrat voters and 64 per cent of those who are undecided or who refuse to say how they will vote.
However, the public are unlikely to back Mr Clegg if he were to make PR the price of joining a coalition government. Only 24 per cent say that such a move would make them more likely to vote for him, while 61 per cent disagree.
ComRes telephoned a random sample of 1,006 GB adults on 26-27 April 2010. Data were weighted to be representative of all adults and by past vote recall. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at www.comres.co.uk