Labour has turned the tables on the Tories by opening up a two-point opinion poll lead, according to a survey for The Independent by CommunicateResearch.
The turnaround will be seen as a response to the Government's decision to put terrorism and crime at the heart of its agenda and to portray the Tories as "soft" on security issues. It appears that Labour's tough stance has played particularly well among men, who have swung back to the party.
CommunicateResearch puts Labour on 36 per cent, the Tories on 34 per cent, the Liberal Democrats on 17 per cent and other parties on 13 per cent. There has been a striking change since last month, when the Tories enjoyed a six-point lead over Labour. Although two polls by Ipsos MORI have given Labour a narrow lead, most recent surveys have showed the Tories ahead of Labour. The most recent monthly "poll of polls" for The Independent gave the Tories a four-point lead.
The new survey shows that Labour's support among men has increased sharply from 29 per cent to 38 per cent in the past month. Labour's backing among women has risen by only one point to 35 per cent, while the Tories are down four points, with some of their backers switching to the Liberal Democrats.
Tory support has dropped among the C2 demographic group (skilled manual workers) and DE (manual workers). Last month, the two main parties were level-pegging among C2s (on 35 per cent) and the Tories were ahead among DEs (by 39 to 43 per cent). Now Labour is ahead among C2s (by 43 to 27 per cent) and DEs (by 40 to 33 per cent).
While Mr Cameron's party is ahead among the top AB social group (by 41 to 30 per cent), the Tories may not have much scope to make further gains among these voters and it appears that Labour is appealing more effectively to the C2s. The Tories have a big lead among older voters but Labour holds the advantage among the under-55s.
Ministers will view the findings as a vindication of their decision to put a tough approach on law and order at the centre of the programme for Tony Blair's final Queen's Speech this month. Labour has been accused of relying on the "politics of fear" and Mr Cameron has accused Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, and John Reid, the Home Secretary, of playing politics with terrorism after they backed an extension of the 28-day limit for which suspected terrorists can be held.
A poll by Ipsos MORI among members of the Political Studies Association shows that 49 per cent regard Mr Brown as the most capable next Prime Minister while only 14 per cent opt for Mr Cameron. Mr Brown is rated the most successful post-war chancellor and is regarded as the most capable chancellor by 68 per cent. Only 4 per cent back George Osborne, his Tory shadow.
CommunicateResearch, a member of the British Polling Council, interviewed 1,004 adults by telephone on 24-26 November. Data were weighted to represent all adults. Full tables at www.communicateresearch.com.
How the parties stand
LABOUR: 36 per cent, +3 POINTS (on last month)
CONSERVATIVE: 34 per cent, -4 POINTS
LIBERAL DEMOCRATS: 17 per cent, +3 POINTS
OTHERS: 13 per cent, -2 POINTS