The reputation of Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling among businessmen has suffered amid the Government's problems and fears of an economic downturn.
A survey of 100 business leaders by ComRes shows that David Cameron, the Conservative leader, and his shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, are enhancing their standing.
The number of prominent businessmen who say they are confident in the ability of Mr Brown has fallen from 31 per cent to 22 per cent in the past month, while the proportion who say they are not confident has risen from 67 per cent to 73 per cent. The Chancellor's "confidence rating" has also dropped, down from 17 per cent to just 13 per cent, while the number who are not confident in him has risen from 77 per cent to 83 per cent.
Conversely, the number of business leaders who have confidence in Mr Cameron has increased from 49 per cent to 55 per cent, while the share who do not has dropped from 49 per cent to 39 per cent. Mr Osborne's confidence rating has risen from 44 per cent to 49 per cent. Since becoming Chancellor in June, Mr Darling has had to cope with the crisis at Northern Rock and the loss of personal data on 25 million people by HM Revenue & Customs. He was accused of "stealing" Tory policies on inheritance tax cuts in October.
According to ComRes, the number of businessmen who believe that Mr Darling understands business has fallen from 22 per cent to 20 per cent since last month and the proportion who think he is well equipped to steer the economy has dropped from 16 per cent to 14 per cent.
However, the number who believe he is out of his depth has fallen from 62 per cent to 59 per cent and the proportion who think his plans to reform capital gains tax (CGT) will damage British business has dropped from 69 per cent to 59 per cent.
Business leaders have attacked the Chancellor's plan to raise the lowest rate of CGT for business assets from 10 per cent to 18 per cent, intended as a way of increasing taxes for private equity bosses. He is expected to announce some concessions in the next week, possibly by protecting company owners who sell up to retire. But the rethink may not go far enough to satisfy business groups. In 2008, the British economy will face its most difficult year since Labour came to power and is set to be a key election battleground. Brown allies insist he would relish a battle with the Tories on the issue and they believe Mr Cameron has not yet won the trust of the public or business.
The ComRes survey suggests the Tories' economic credentials may be improving and is in line with polling among voters. When the problems at Northern Rock emerged in August, the ratings of the Brown-Darling combination appeared not to suffer and they were seen as the best team to handle economic problems.Reuse content