Gordon Brown's solid performance in Brighton last week helped Labour to a post-conference bounce, but the party still lags far behind the Tories, a new opinion poll reveals today.
Labour's projected share of the vote rose by five points in less than a week during the party conference, from 23 per cent last Monday to 28 per cent on Thursday, according to the ComRes survey.
However, the Conservatives managed at the same time to increase their support from the electorate – even though they were away from the news headlines – finishing the week two points up, on 40 per cent.
Although the Tory lead was down from 17 points on a corresponding poll in The Independent on Sunday in August, it would still be enough to win David Cameron a hefty 46-seat majority if it were repeated at a general election. One in eight people who supported Labour in the 2005 election has now switched to the Tories.
But the poll raises serious questions about Labour's strategy of targeting the middle classes, in their effort to close the gap on the Conservatives. Up to a third of voters from the lower socio-economic classes declared that they were "certain not to vote" next time – suggesting that Mr Brown should be concentrating on encouraging his party's core supporters to vote.
The survey also suggests that many voters are now ready to give the Prime Minister the credit for rescuing Britain from recession, but they are not convinced that Cameron would have struggled to handle the crisis. Exactly half of those questioned agreed that Mr Brown "took the right decisions to prevent the recession turning into a slump", but less than a third believed the recession would have been worse if Mr Cameron had been prime minister.
Significantly, however, despite Mr Cameron's popularity, almost half of voters confess that they don't know exactly what he stands for – and the figure has remained steady for the past 15 months. Most worrying of all for the Tories is the fact that a third of their own voters don't know what their party leader stands for.
The poll results also appear to lay Alan Johnson's leadership chances to rest. Barely a third agree that he would make a better prime minister than Gordon Brown – six points down on six months ago.