Gordon Brown will try to calm a new bout of Labour jitters on Monday over whether he should lead the party into the general election after the Conservatives emerged as the winners of the party conference season.
Rebel Labour MPs are discussing a plan to field a "Brown must go" candidate for the post of chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) when the incumbent Tony Lloyd, who remains loyal to Mr Brown, comes up for re-election in the next few weeks.
The move would turn the election into a vote of confidence in the Prime Minister. The rebels believe it would be difficult for whips to quash the revolt because the election will be on a secret ballot. If their candidate won, they say, Mr Brown would have to stand down.
Mr Brown will try to steady Labour nerves when he addresses the PLP on Monday after MPs return to Westminster from their three-month summer recess. But his critics will seize on the first opinion polls taken after the final party conferences before the election.
A YouGov survey for Sky News put the Tories on 44 per cent (up five points since the conferences began), Labour on 27 per cent (down three points) and the Liberal Democrats on 17 per cent (unchanged). Two other surveys published today give the Tories (42 per cent) a 14-point lead over Labour (28 per cent) with the Liberal Democrats on 18 and 19 per cent respectively.
A ComRes survey for the BBC's Daily Politics programme found that 43 per cent trust the Tories most to "put in place the right conditions for a strong economic recovery", compared with 31 per cent for Labour and 11 per cent for the Liberal Democrats.
Some 34 per cent trust the Tories most to cut public spending without harming public services, while 30 per cent favour Labour and 16 per cent Nick Clegg's party. Some 36 per cent trust the Tories most to set fair taxes, with 30 per cent opting for Labour and 17 per cent the Liberal Democrats. However, more people trust Labour most to protect jobs (36 per cent) than the Tories (31 per cent).
The Tory plan to scrap tax credits for families with incomes over £50,000 is supported by 72 per cent, with 25 per cent against. But people are evenly divided over the proposed pay freeze for public servants, and oppose its proposal to speed up a rise in the state pension age by a margin of 52 to 45 per cent.
One former cabinet minister said yesterday: "The polls suggest that people do not really want the Tories and are still in tune with Labour's values. They are prepared to give David Cameron the benefit of the doubt in order to get rid of Gordon. So that can only lead us to one conclusion: we would improve our election chances by changing our leader." Brown allies predicted that a challenge to Mr Lloyd would not materialise. But rebels said the public's verdict on the conferences would increase the prospects of another attempted coup.
Some want Ann Clywd, a former PLP chairman, to run against Mr Lloyd. But she will not stand, not least because she is Mr Brown's special envoy to Iraq. Charles Clarke, a prominent rebel and a former Home Secretary, is unlikely to run, but Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee, is a possible candidate.Reuse content