The Liberal Democrats have failed to reverse their slide in the opinion polls earlier this year and are stuck on 15 per cent, according to the latest monthly survey for The Independent.
If the results of the ComRes poll were repeated at the next election, the number of Liberal Democrat MPs would fall from 63 to a rump of just 13 on a uniform swing. Several prominent party figures would lose their seats, including Chris Huhne, Nick Clegg, Simon Hughes, David Laws, Norman Lamb and Nick Harvey.
At the last election, the Liberal Democrats won 22 per cent of the votes. But, says ComRes, their rating fell from 22 per cent in April to 18 per cent in June and 16 per cent in July. The 15 per cent rating is a gloomy backdrop to the party's conference in Brighton.
Another worry for the Liberal Democrats is that their supporters are less likely to turn out than those of the other main parties. Only 47 per cent of Liberal Democrat supporters say they are absolutely certain to vote, the party's lowest turnout rating this year, compared to 64 per cent for Labour and 63 per cent for the Tories.
People who think of themselves as natural Liberal Democrats are less likely to vote for the party than those who identify with other parties. Some 77 per cent of Liberal Democrats intend to vote for their party, compared to 88 per cent of natural Labour supporters and 92 per cent of Tory identifiers.
The monthly survey by ComRes suggests a mini-recovery by the Tories has stalled. ComRes showed the two biggest parties neck and neck on 36 per cent last month. Now Labour is on 37 per cent, the Tories 34 per cent with the Liberal Democrats unchanged on 15 per cent. The figures would give Labour an overall majority of 70 and will encourage those allies of Gordon Brown who are urging him to call an early vote.
Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, admitted yesterday: "We are not as high as I would like." But he said it was "absolute nonsense" to say the party's ratings had collapsed, pointing to their second place in the Ealing Southall and Sedgefield by-elections in July.
A defiant Sir Menzies told The Andrew Marr Show on BBC TV: "I have made it clear I will lead this party through this parliament, through the general election and into the parliament beyond." He insisted he had successfully maintained the party's "distinctive position" as the "real opposition" in British politics.
But rumblings about his leadership continued as the conference began. A BBC Radio Four survey of 90 Liberal Democrat constituency association chairmen in key seats found that nearly a third were not convinced Sir Menzies was leading the party in the right direction.
ComRes telephoned 1,005 British adults on 11 and 12 September 2007. Data were weighted by past vote recall. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at www.comres.co.uk