The Conservative Party's lead over Labour in the opinion polls is shrinking, according to The Independent's latest "poll of polls".
Despite an attempted coup against its leader Tony Blair and turmoil at the top of the Government, David Cameron's party saw its lead over Labour cut from four points in August to three points last month.
The Conservatives will anxiously await the next few polls to see whether their conference in Bournemouth this week gives them a lift. Two surveys taken since Labour's conference in Manchester suggest that Mr Blair's final speech gave his party a "bounce".
A weighted average of last month's polls puts the Tories on 36 per cent (down one point on August), Labour on 33 per cent (unchanged) and the Liberal Democrats on 19 per cent (down one point).
The figures mean the Tory lead has dropped from seven points in May to three points. If it continues to fall, doubts about Mr Cameron's attempt to rebrand the party are bound to grow.
John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, who compiled the "poll of polls", said: "The long-term trend in the Conservative position over the last 12 months shows just how glacial Mr Cameron's progress has been. His accession to the leadership at the beginning of December clearly gave his party a boost - up four points to 37 per cent. But thereafter the Tories have not made any sustained progress beyond that level."
Although the Conservatives have enjoyed a clear lead over Labour for the first time in 14 years, Professor Curtice said this was due more to Labour's weakening position than a further Tory advance.
"In short, the best thing that Mr Cameron has done for the Conservatives so far has been to become its leader," he said. "But his attempts since becoming leader to advance his party's position further by changing its image seem so far not to have brought any sustained dividend."
Professor Curtice said Mr Cameron had been lucky to face an unpopular government in the last six months. But the most recent poll, showing the two main parties were neck and neck, was a warning about how easily that luck could run out.
"The Tory lead is sufficiently small that it can easily disappear in the face of the slightest Labour recovery - even if that recovery is not at the Tories' direct expense," he said.
To answer criticism that the Tories have "no policies," they plan to publish a 40,000-word book of proposals from which their election manifesto will be drawn. The idea is based on "The Right Approach" - the 1976 programme which set the agenda for Margaret Thatcher's government and included policies such as allowing council house tenants to buy their homes.
Mr Cameron, who is determined to ensure the Tories are better prepared for power than Labour was in 1997, will set up an "implementation office" early in the new year. It will recruit businessmen and former civil servants who will work closely with shadow cabinet members on their policy proposals. Shadow ministers will also receive training about how government works and how to run their departments.
The Tories want to make the most detailed preparations of any government-in-waiting. They believe that the Labour Party wasted its first two years after regaining power in 1997.