The Labour Party's grassroots have turned decisively against Gordon Brown and a majority want him to stand down, according to an exclusive poll for The Independent.
A survey of rank-and-file Labour activists found 54 per cent would prefer someone else to lead the party into the next general election. Mr Brown's personal rating was lower than every other member of the Cabinet except the Chief Whip Geoff Hoon and the Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly.
The findings are a crushing blow to the Prime Minister on the eve of a make-or-break annual Labour conference in Manchester starting tomorrow. He had been relying on the supposed support of activists to dampen the whispering campaign against him in Parliament. Some 45 per cent of those who responded believe that changing the party's leader before the next general election would improve Labour's prospects. Some 27 per cent believe that a new leader would make no difference to Labour's chances, while 28 per cent think it would worsen them.
A majority (57 per cent) believe there should be a vote at the Manchester conference on whether Mr Brown should face a leadership election, with 43 per cent opposed. This suggests strong support for the 12 Labour MPs who have called for a contest.
If Mr Brown is forced to stand down, the Foreign Secretary David Miliband (24.6 per cent) is the favoured successor among Labour's grassroots. He is followed by the Health Secretary Alan Johnson (18.1 per cent); the backbencher Jon Cruddas (11.3 per cent); the Justice Secretary Jack Straw (9.6 per cent); Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman (6.6 per cent); the left-winger John McDonnell (6.5 per cent); the Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell (3.2 per cent); and the Schools Secretary Ed Balls (2 per cent).
The online survey of 788 Labour members and supporters was conducted by Labourhome.org, an online forum for the Labour grassroots which is not funded or controlled by the party.
Brown allies have claimed that the rebel MPs are a small group of dissidents who do not represent the Parliamentary Labour Party or party members. Normally, the people taking part in the poll would instinctively be loyal to the party leader.
Mr Brown's personal standing appears to have sunk to a low ebb among Labour activists. Asked to give cabinet ministers marks out of 10 for their performance, Labour members and supporters gave him an average of only 4.3. Mr Johnson is regarded as the best-performing cabinet minister with 6.18 out of 10, followed by the Environment Secretary Hilary Benn, Mr Straw and Mr Miliband.
Asked about the results on the BBC's Question Time programme, Harriet Harman, the Deputy Leader, who scored 4.95, said it was just "one poll" and said those within the party calling for a leadership election were making "an error of judgement". Pressed to say she would not stand in any election, to show her support for Mr Brown, said refused to do so, saying the question was hypothetical. The survey will embolden those MPs who are determined to prise Mr Brown out of Downing Street within weeks. His critics believe Cabinet ministers will try to oust him if Labour loses the Glenrothes by-election in Fife, expected in late October or early November. "There is a growing consensus that Glenrothes should be the trigger point," one ministerial aide said yesterday.
Alex Hilton, the editor of Labourhome, said: "It's a real concern that a small majority of Labour members and supporters want Gordon Brown to step aside, though this poll was taken before it was clear the role the Prime Minister had played in the merger of Lloyds-TSB and HBOS."
The survey shows that morale in the Labour Party has slumped. Asked to rate their motivation to campaign for Labour, the average score is 4.8 out of 10 – down from 5.86 in June. Some 71 per cent of those taking part favour a windfall tax on the energy companies, with 29 per cent against, suggesting that Mr Brown could be defeated on the issue at the conference.
There is overwhelming support (86 per cent) for higher taxes on people earning more than £250,000 a year, with only 14 per cent opposed.
Some 48 per cent of those who responded want the money raised spent on cutting taxes for those on lower and middle incomes, while 52 per cent say it should maintain spending levels on public services.
Labour leaders will try to stifle dissent at the conference by arguing that the party will alienate voters if it indulges in "navel-gazing" during the global financial crisis.
Mr Brown told Sky News last night: "This is the time for people who know how to deal with difficult economic circumstances. I believe we are in difficult economic times."
The online survey of 788 Labour members and supporters was conducted by Labourhome.org on 15-18 September. Non-Labour supporters who responded were omitted from the published results.
How cabinet ministers rated in the survey
On a 1-10 scale, how would you rate the recent performance of each member of the Cabinet?
(1 = Very poor; 10 = Very good)
Alan Johnson 6.18
Hilary Benn 5.91
Jack Straw 5.71
David Miliband 5.61
Andy Burnham 5.35
John Denham 5.32
Jacqui Smith 5.15
Ed Miliband 5.05
James Purnell 5.04
Harriet Harman 4.95
Douglas Alexander 4.89
Ed Balls 4.80
Yvette Cooper 4.69
Hazel Blears 4.68
John Hutton 4.67
Des Browne 4.61
Baroness Ashton of Upholland 4.57
Paul Murphy 4.54
Shaun Woodward 4.53
Alistair Darling 4.31
Gordon Brown 4.30
Geoff Hoon 4.12
Ruth Kelly 4.07
If Gordon Brown stands down before the next general election, who would be your preferred choice to take over?
David Miliband 24.6%
Alan Johnson 18.1%
Jon Cruddas 11.3%
Jack Straw 9.6%
Harriet Harman 6.6%
John McDonnell 6.5%
James Purnell 3.2%
Ed Balls 2.0%
Someone else 18.0%