Labour's popularity has slumped but the Tories have failed to take advantage of the Government's troubles, according to a new survey.
The "poll of polls" for The Independent puts Labour and the Tories on 33 per cent wth the Liberal Democrats on 22 per cent, their highest rating since last summer. Labour is down four points since last month and the Tories down two, while the Liberal Democrats are up three points.
John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, who compiled the weighted average of this month's polls by ICM, MORI, Populus and YouGov, said: "Labour is apparently at its lowest ebb in this parliament, while at the same time the Tories are more or less back to where they were before David Cameron became leader.
"It is as if [the] two largest parties are still slugging it out for who is king of the castle, without realising that around them an incoming tide is gradually eroding the castle's foundations."
Professor Curtice said the rise in support for other parties, currently on 12 per cent, was similar to their advance before the local and European Parliament elections in 2004. But he said the minor parties would not necessarily repeat their strong performance at next week's local elections.
He said the polls pointed to a similar pattern of results next Thursday to 2004, which was a disastrous year for Labour. He added: "Labour can expect to lose seats where they are defending territory last contested in 2002. Conversely, the Tories can hope to make gains in such territory, but they may finding themselves sharing the honours on the night with the Lib Dems, who might - just - be able to defend most of what they secured in 2004 while at the same time make some advances where the seats up for grabs were last fought in 2002."
Professor Curtice said the Liberal Democrats would have happily settled for such an outcome at the start of this year, when they were hit by the resignation of leader Charles Kennedy after he admitted a drink problem and revelations about the personal life of the leading figures Simon Hughes and Mark Oaten. But he said the results suggested by the polls would deeply unsettle both Mr Blair and Mr Cameron.
When the results come in, most attention will focus on Mr Blair following the Government's disastrous day on Wednesday.
But there is some nervousness in Tory ranks that the party may have little to celebrate in the first nationwide test of Mr Cameron's performance since he became leader last December.
Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, who also faces his first electoral test, has had a quiet start since succeeding Mr Kennedy but a strong showing would boost his leadership.
We've been here before - New Labour's worst weeks
THE FUEL PROTESTS 7-13 September 2000
The soaring price of petrol sparked a rebellion among lorry drivers and farmers. Truckers blockaded fuel refineries and panic buying hit the nation's forecourts. Tony Blair was forced to call together Cobra, Whitehall's crisis planning committee. Polls showed a collapse in support for Labour.
Worst week rating: 6/10
MANDELSON RESIGNS - AGAIN 20-26 January 2001
Peter Mandelson, one of Mr Blair's closest allies, had already resigned from the Government after accepting a £373,000 loan to buy a house from fellow minister Geoffrey Robinson. As Northern Ireland Secretary, he was under fire over his links with the Indian Hinduja brothers.
Worst week rating: 7/10
THE FIRST TRIPLE WHAMMY 13-20 May 2001
The launch of Labour's general election manifesto was overshadowed when Mr Blair was accosted by Sharron Storer about the treatment of her partner at Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham in full view of the TV cameras. Jack Straw, then Home Secretary, was jeered by the Police Federation when he addressed their conference.
To cap it all, John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, punched a demonstrator who threw an egg at him in Rhyl, Wales.
It was perhaps Mr Blair's worst single day as Prime Minister - until Wednesday this week.
Worst week rating: 6/10
CHERIEGATE 1-6 December 2002
The Mail on Sunday reported that a convicted Australian conman, Peter Foster, the lover of Cherie Blair's lifestyle adviser, Carole Caplin, had helped the Prime Minister's wife to buy two flats in Bristol. Downing Street flatly denied that Mr Foster "was or is a financial adviser to the family". But Mrs Blair was forced to apologise for withholding information from Downing Street spokesmen after the Daily Mail published e-mails exchanges between Cherie and Foster.
Worst week rating: 7/10
DAVID KELLY 17-23 July 2003
Mr Blair received 17 standing ovations from members of both houses of Congress in Washington. By the time the Prime Minister's plane touched down in the Far East, the news arrived that the weapons scientist's body had been discovered in an Oxfordshire wood.
Worst week rating: 9/10
TOP-UP FEES AND HUTTON VERDICT 20-26 January 2004
There was speculation that Mr Blair would have to resign if he were to lose a crucial Commons vote on university top-up fees and if he was criticised by the Hutton inquiry into the death of David Kelly. The Government survived a rebellion and won the vote by five. It also escaped criticism from Lord Hutton, who turned his fire on the BBC; the inquiry was seen as a whitewash.
Worst week rating: 5/10
ABU GHRAIB 30 April-6 May 2004
Photographs of the abuse of Iraqis in Abu Ghraib prison provoked violent reactions across the Muslim world. Mr Blair was talked out of resigning by cabinet loyalists including Charles Clarke, John Reid and Tessa Jowell. At about this time that the Blairs decided to start looking for a home in central London and bought their house in Connaught Square in October 2004.
Worst week rating: 8/10
Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, announced on Tuesday that 1,000 foreign prisoners had been released without deportation. On Wednesday he disclosed that 288 of them were let out after the Government knew about the problem. Then Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, was heckled and booed by the Royal College of Nursing. For good measure, the Daily Mirror disclosed that John Prescott had an affair with a civil servant in his private office.
Worst week rating: 9/10Reuse content