Gordon Brown will begin a drive today to regain the initiative amid signs that the Tory recovery in the opinion polls is not merely a temporary blip.
The latest poll of polls for The Independent suggests there has been a significant shift which is deeper than a hostile reaction to Mr Brown's decision to abandon plans for a general election on 1 November.
The rolling average of the most recent four surveys puts the Tories on 41 per cent, Labour on 37 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 14 per cent. John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, who compiled the figures, said: "The rise in Tory fortunes after the Tory conference and the pre-Budget report was not a temporary volatile blip but has proven to be a more durable change in the public mood."
Mr Brown will go head-to-head with David Cameron this afternoon to debate his first Queen's Speech as Prime Minister. He will make meeting people's "aspirations" a key theme as he tries to answer critics who claim his Government lacks direction and a vision.
Ministers hope the package of Bills will also show voters they are addressing the people's concerns. The problems facing first-time buyers will be addressed by the creation of a Homes and Community Agency to deliver more affordable housing and meet the Government's commitment to provide three million new homes by 2020 without harming the environment.
New "eco-towns" could provide up to 200,000 new homes, and new properties will be "zero carbon" from 2016. Hundreds of new public sector land sites will be earmarked for housing to protect the green belt.
An Immigration Bill, which has been added to the list at the last minute, will set out a points-based system to assess claims by skilled workers from outside the EU, and limit the numbers allowed in.
Another Bill will ensure that young people stay in education or training until the 18 by 2015. The most controversial measure is likely to prove a Counter-Terrorism Bill, which is expected to raise from 28 to 56 days the period for which suspected terrorists can be held without charge.
Battles loom as Mr Brown seeks approval for the new European Union treaty without a referendum, and the funding of political parties. Ministers plan to limit spending at constituency level between elections to prevent Lord Ashcroft, the Tory deputy chairman, ploughing resources into marginal seats.
The most recent polls point to a hung parliament. If the figures were repeated at a general election, Labour would win 308 seats, the Tories 296, the Liberal Democrats 19 and other parties 26.
In October, a weighted average of polls by ICM, Ipsos MORI, Populus, YouGov and ComRes puts the Tories on 40 per cent (up seven points on September), Labour on 37 per cent (down three) and the Liberal Democrats on 15 per cent (down two). These figures would give Labour 312 seats, the Tories 287, the Liberal Democrats 24 and other parties 26.
Professor Curtice said: "David Cameron has secured a second chance to use his personal popularity to sell his party. Mr Brown's popularity has taken a knock, although he is still a lot more popular than Tony Blair was in his last months in office."
He said the Tories had taken votes from the Liberal Democrats but Labour had also been damaged. In August, the third party was losing more support to Labour than the Tories but now that had reversed.
How should the Prime Minister fight back?
Lord Giddens, Labour peer and former Blair guru
"Against the background of Labour's current troubles, this year's [Queen's] speech has a special significance. It has to be part of the fightback to re-establish the Prime Minister's authority and to show the public that this is a government with a clear view of where it wants to take the country."
Frank Field, Labour MP
"If our despondency continues– and that's why this Queen's Speech is so important to get [us] out of this rut – it might be Labour votes that Nick Clegg [the Liberal Democrat leadership candidate] takes. He's the sort of nice guy the Labour-voting public might decide to back. If there's any flakiness in the vote, it might be on our side, which brings us back again to what our vision's about."
Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Former lord chancellor
"Renewal does not come from a change of leadership alone. And political leadership requires not just an ability to deal with the present. It also requires the ability to convince the public you lead that your vision of the future is one they share. In the changing world which the public experience in their daily lives – they know things are changing – that means being able to renew as well the policy prescriptions you adopt."
Sunder Katwala, General secretary, the Fabian Society
"In the last decade, caution has won out. Keep the vision thing fuzzy. There has been quiet redistribution – but little attempt to shift public arguments whether on inequality, crime or Europe. But that strategy has reached the limits of progress, unless Brown can mobilise the public support and resources to go further."
Carey Oppenheim, Co-director of the Institute of Public Policy Research
"It is clear that Brown has a vision; the problem has been that it has not come across very well. Now that we are moving away from the period of political froth about the election, there is an opportunity to hear more about what that vision is."Reuse content