George Osborne's ambitions to lead Britain out of recession – and one day to become Prime Minister – have been rocked by new evidence showing that voters think he is too posh, too arrogant and out of touch with the public.
As the Chancellor attempts to rebuild his reputation following a series of catastrophic U-turns on his 2012 Budget, a devastating poll for The Independent on Sunday has revealed a deep crisis of confidence over his abilities at the most critical moment in his political career.
The poll gives Labour a 10-point lead over the Conservatives – one more than a similar IoS survey last month – and on course to win a 110-seat majority at the next general election.
But the full findings lay bare public concerns about Mr Osborne's "aloof" image, as well as his economic competence, with only one in four people believing that he is leading the country in the right direction.
They inevitably raise questions over his chances of becoming the next Tory leader.
The poll, carried out by ComRes last week, found that 55 per cent of people – including more than a third of those who voted Tory in 2010 – agreed that the Chancellor was "too posh to understand the financial pressures on ordinary people".
Almost six out of 10 said they believed Mr Osborne, a millionaire, was "out of touch with the public". Just over half of the 2,014 people interviewed agreed that the Chancellor "comes across as arrogant". The wounding verdict underlines the accusation, from Tory MP Nadine Dorries, that Mr Osborne and David Cameron were "two arrogant posh boys who don't know the price of milk ... who show no remorse, no contrition and no passion to want to understand the lives of others – and that is their real crime".
In a damning judgement on Mr Osborne's economic competence, almost half of those surveyed believed he had made too many mistakes to be taken seriously. Less than a third saw him as "an able politician", and barely a quarter agreed that he was "doing a good job in difficult times".
Mr Osborne is renowned within the Tory party as a gifted strategist and the tactical brain behind election campaigns, including Mr Cameron's successful bid for the leadership in 2005. He also managed to avoid trouble in the past, earning himself the nickname "the submarine" – sinking beneath the surface when trouble breaks out.
But the Chancellor's credibility has suffered a battering in recent months, amid escalating protests from left and right over his insistence that deep spending cuts are the best way to rescue the UK from double-dip recession. The shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, is now far ahead in the popularity vote when interviewees are asked who they would prefer to see in charge of the UK economy.
Mr Osborne has resisted calls for a "Plan B" that would stimulate economic growth, but last week announced plans to lend high-street banks £140m, on condition that they pass it on directly to small businesses and homeowners.
Mr Osborne has also endured criticism as his latest Budget unravelled in the face of widespread protests. The Treasury has been forced into U-turns
on proposals including plans for a "pasty tax", a limit on tax relief on large charitable donations and a VAT rise on static holiday caravans. His warning that the euro crisis could "kill off" a British recovery has provoked disapproval among some Tory MPs, but his handling of the economy now threatens to lose the party some of its most influential supporters.
The Daily Mail columnist Simon Heffer claimed yesterday that Mr Cameron should consider sacking his Chancellor. In a piece entitled "My plan B? Replace bankrupt Osborne", he said: "The Chancellor's stubborn refusal to change course, and to accept any responsibility for our stagnation, inevitably raise questions about his suitability for his post."
Labour claimed last night that the Government has organised a global investment conference in London immediately after the second quarter's growth figures are published. Labour's Treasury spokesman Chris Leslie said the Government hoped the event would distract attention from figures which could confirm that Britain is still in double-dip recession.
He added: "David Cameron and George Osborne shouldn't have to wait for an economic crisis summit to find out that their policies have failed."