Cameron pays the price of expenses scandal

Independent poll finds huge surge in support for fringe parties

The scandal over MPs' expenses has led to a dramatic drop in support for the Conservatives as voters have turned their backs on all three main parties, the latest ComRes survey for The Independent has found.

Remarkably, the poll puts the "other parties" on 30 per cent – neck and neck with the Tories. The Tories' rating is 15 points down on the last ComRes survey for this newspaper a month ago, before the controversy erupted. It is at its lowest level in any poll since April 2006, poll since April 2006 when David Cameron was engulfed in a row over his party's policy on grammar schools.

If a general election were held now, Labour would win 22 per cent of the votes and the Liberal Democrats 18 per cent, the poll found. That would leave Mr Cameron 46 seats short of an overall majority. The poll suggests that, while Labour has hit rock bottom, the expenses controversy is now dragging down the Tories too. Although Mr Cameron won praise for his response when the scandal broke, there has since been a stream of revelations about how Tory MPs have milked the system.

Labour has dropped four points in the past month, while the Liberal Democrats are up one point and the other parties are up by 18 points.

The findings will worry the Tories ahead of Thursday's local and European elections. There are signs that the controversy on expenses has alienated older people, those normally most likely to vote. Tory support among those aged 65 and over has dropped from 49 to 28 per cent in the past month and, unusually, the party's highest level of support is now among 18 to 24-year-olds. The new poll puts the Greens on 8 per cent, Ukip on 7 per cent, the BNP 3 per cent, the Scottish National Party 2 per cent, Plaid Cymru 1 per cent and other smaller parties or independents 9 per cent.

It suggests the voters' message in Thursday's local and European elections will be to say "a plague on all your houses" to the three main parties. According to ComRes, 80 per cent of people agree that "the Westminster parties" have let the country down, while only 18 per cent disagree.

The poll raises hopes for the Greens and Ukip of a strong showing in Thursday's elections to the European Parliament. It points to a Labour rout that could lead to demands from Labour MPs that Gordon Brown stand down before the general election.

Last night the Prime Minister faced a dilemma over whether to keep Alistair Darling as his Chancellor when he reshuffles his Cabinet – possibly this Friday, when the council results will emerge, and before the European results are announced on Sunday. Mr Darling paid back £668 after he was accused of using his second homes allowance to claim the service charges on his London flat while he was not living there. He apologised unreservedly.

The ComRes survey found strong public support for some of the ideas highlighted by The Independent's Campaign for Democracy. Some 69 per cent of people support the introduction of proportional representation (PR), with 22 per cent opposed to it. Although the Tories oppose electoral reform, 63 per cent of people who support the party back PR, as well as 67 per cent of Labour supporters and 78 per cent of Liberal Democrat supporters.

Some 79 per cent back fixed-term parliaments, with 18 per cent against. There is strong support for Mr Cameron's plan for a reduction in the number of MPs, with 73 per cent in favour and 22 per cent against. This proposal is endorsed by 77 per cent of Tory supporters, 62 per cent of those intending to vote Labour and 59 per cent of those who say they will vote Liberal Democrat.

The anger over the behaviour of MPs is spread across the political spectrum. Some 89 per cent of Tory supporters agree that the main parties have let the country down – a view shared by 67 per cent of Liberal Democrat supporters and 59 per cent of those intending to vote Labour.

Four out of five (79 per cent) people who voted Tory in 2005 would back the party in a general election now, compared with only 54 per cent of those who voted for Labour last time.

ComRes telephoned 1,005 GB adults between 29 and 31 May 2009. Data were weighted 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

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