Honeymoon is over as Cameron fails to make ground

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Indy Politics

David Cameron's honeymoon is over and Labour has moved ahead in the opinion polls despite the "loans for peerages" scandal.

A poll conducted in March for The Independent puts Labour on 37 per cent (up one point since February), the Tories on 35 per cent (down two points) and the Liberal Democrats on 19 per cent (unchanged).

The figures are a setback for Mr Cameron because his party's ratings have slipped by two points since December, when he became Tory leader. Since then, he has launched a flurry of initiatives in an attempt to modernise his party's image and changed the policies on tax cuts, health and education on which it fought last year's general election.

The Tories' apparent lack of progress is bound to fuel disquiet about Mr Cameron's strategy among his right-wing critics.

Labour will be relieved that it does not seem to have suffered a backlash over the revelation that it accepted almost £14m in secret loans from 12 donors. Supporters of Mr Blair will hope that Labour's lead in the polls will help to quell demandsto announce a timetable for his departure.

But Mr Blair may not be out of the woods yet, since only two of last month's surveys were taken after the scandal broke. One showed Labour up by one point and the other unchanged. The weighted average of last month's polls by ICM, MORI, Populus and YouGov was calculated by John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University. He put forward two possible explanations why the allegations had not yet had any adverse impact on Labour's standing - that the party's stock was already so low, and the perception it is less than trustworthy so widespread, that the affair has simply confirmed impressions and that the Tories are regarded as just as implicated as Labour.

Professor Curtice added: "Evidently while it might have been Mr Blair's support that was eroding at Westminster during March, in the country as a whole it was Mr Cameron's support that was on the slide. Conservative support fell in all four of the regular monthly polls as compared with March, and the Conservatives are now behind Labour in our monthly poll of polls for the first time since he became leader in December. Evidently Mr Cameron's honeymoon has had too little impact for too short a time to change fundamentally the Conservatives' electoral prospects."

Sir Menzies Campbell appears to have made no immediate difference to the Liberal Democrats' prospects since being chosen as Charles Kennedy's successor.

The party has maintained its recovery from the fallout over Mr Kennedy's resignation in January but remains weaker than it was last autumn.

The Tories insisted Mr Cameron was on track, pointing to other poll findings showing that the voters' view of the party was changing. A Conservative spokesman said last night: "We know the polls have fluctuated. The underlying indications show we are making progress. People are warming to David Cameron. We have made a good start. Making progress over the long term is more important than the headline polls."

The Labour MP Ann Cryer urged Mr Blair to disclose before the party's annual conference in September how long he intended to remain Prime Minister. "No matter how much you try to stage manage a conference like that, I think there would be some unhappiness if he remained silent on the issue," she said.