Lib Dems now breathing down Labour's neck

Nick Clegg's party is only one point behind, according to poll, and voters are not sure what David Cameron stands for

Labour is just one point ahead of the Liberal Democrats in what could turn into another difficult summer for Gordon Brown. The ComRes survey for The Independent on Sunday reveals Labour is on 23 per cent, up one from a month ago, but 15 points behind the Conservatives on 38 per cent.

Nick Clegg's party has climbed four points in a month to 22 per cent, in a sign that the Lib Dems are benefiting most from the anti-politics mood created by the MPs' expenses scandal. The poll is published amid fresh discontent about the Prime Minister's leadership on the eve of the long summer recess and days before the Norwich North by-election, when Labour is expected to lose to the Conservatives.

James Purnell and John Hutton, who both resigned from the Cabinet last month, broke their silences this weekend to express dissatisfaction with the direction of the Labour Party.

Mr Purnell revealed he had been considering his position for six months before his shock resignation on the night of the local and European elections in June, while Mr Hutton warned that the Prime Minister was "heading for trouble" unless he changed his message on the economy and scaled back on public spending.

With just two days left of the parliamentary term, a flurry of white papers and policy announcements will be made this week as the Prime Minister tries to maintain momentum in his Government for the summer.

A report by the arch-Blairite Alan Milburn will this week condemn the Government, local councils and state schools for stamping on the career chances of children from poor families.

The former health secretary, commissioned by Mr Brown to review the help given to bright youngsters from deprived backgrounds, is expected to condemn careers advisers for routinely directing children towards vocational routes, and not universities. Mr Milburn will also suggest that £400m of funding specifically targeted at helping poorer children into university is not being used properly. The report amounts to a parting shot by Mr Milburn, who announced earlier this month that he will stand down as an MP at the next election. Last night Downing Street said the Prime Minister "welcomed this as a contribution to the debate about widening access".

The ComRes poll shows David Cameron has still to open up the sort of leads enjoyed by Tony Blair in opposition in the 1990s. The Tories have not been consistently above the magic 40 per cent mark for weeks.

The latest survey shows voters increasingly "do not really know what David Cameron stands for": 53 per cent agreed with this statement, an increase from 49 per cent a year ago, while 42 per cent disagreed.

Some 60 per cent disagreed that more British troops and resources should be devoted to Afghanistan, with just 34 per cent agreeing. A total of 64 per cent want all British forces to be withdrawn from the country "as quickly as possible", with 33 per cent in disagreement.

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