David Cameron has already put a revived Conservative Party on course to secure a hung parliament at the next general election, a study indicates.
John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, who has analysed the "Cameron effect," said the election of the new Tory leader has harmed Labour more than the Liberal Democrats, despite their wobble over Charles Kennedy's leadership.
His "poll of polls", based on monthly surveys by YouGov, MORI, ICM and Populus, shows that the Tories have wiped out an eight-point lead enjoyed by Labour in the summer to take a two-point advantage in polls this month after Mr Cameron was elected.
It is the first time that the Tories have been ahead in the "poll of polls" since Black Wednesday in 1992, apart from a brief period during the fuel crisis of 2000.
In July and August, a weighted average of the polls put Labour on 39 per cent, the Tories on 31 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 22 per cent. Now the Tories are on 37 per cent, with Labour on 35 per cent and Mr Kennedy's party on 20 per cent.
On the current constituency boundaries, this result would give Labour 323 seats, the Tories 246, the Liberal Democrats 47 and others 30. That would leave Labour one short of an overall majority. However, new boundaries due to take effect in England and Wales by 2009 could reduce Labour's tally by between 10 and 20 seats.
Senior Tory and Liberal Democrat figures have already floated the possibility of a short-term Con-Lib pact in the event of a hung parliament. They believe Mr Kennedy's party would be reluctant to prop up what might be seen as a dying Labour administration.
Professor Curtice said: "It is pretty clear, even if somewhat exaggerated by MORI's most recent poll, that it is Labour and not the Liberal Democrats who have been the principal losers from a clear post- Cameron bounce." He said the Liberal Democrats were on the slide in November - during the Tory leadership election but before Mr Cameron's election - but it appeared that the slide had been stemmed.
"We are now in hung parliament territory - in which situation the Liberal Democrats would of course be more powerful players. It has ironically always been true that the Liberal Democrats needed a modest Tory recovery to occur - preferably at Labour's expense - and that seems to be what Cameron has delivered - for the time being at least."
An ICM survey yesterday suggested that Mr Cameron would perform better against Gordon Brown than Tony Blair. It showed the Tories currently on 37 per cent, Labour on 36 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 21 per cent. With Mr Brown as Labour leader, the Tory figure grows to 41 per cent, with Labour on 36 per cent and the Liberal Democrats 18 per cent.
Professor Curtice believes that such polls show a positive "Cameron effect" but are not necessarily an accurate pointer to the respective merits of Mr Brown and Mr Blair. He said: "Evidently mentioning Cameron is a positive cue for voters, putting the Tories even higher than their raised current vote intention level. But whether the damage is done to Brown or Kennedy is far from clear."
The study will be welcomed by the Tories, who will regard the findings as evidence that Mr Cameron's decision to "hit the ground running" has paid dividends. He has announced six policy commissions, made speeches on the environment and the economy, signalled a softer line on immigration and visited Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Mr Cameron said he had "a positive meeting" yesterday with Jack McConnell, Scotland's First Minister, about how a Tory government would deal with a Labour-led administration in Scotland. He is the first Tory leader to meet Mr McConnell.
They met at the Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood, which Mr Blair has yet to visit.Reuse content