'Post-Budget blues' sees support for Tories drop again

The Conservatives have failed to recover from their bout of "post-Budget blues" and may have suffered permanent damage from George Osborne's ill-fated package.

The Independent's latest "poll of polls" shows that the Tories have dropped below 35 per cent for the third month running, a level below which they had previously not fallen since the 2010 election. Labour has enjoyed a lead of seven points or more over the same period.

The latest weighted average of the polls by ComRes, ICM, YouGov and Ipsos MORI puts Labour on 41 per cent, the Tories on 33 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 12 per cent. If repeated at the next election, these figures would give Labour an overall majority of 76.

However, Labour is not home and dry yet. John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, who compiled the figures, said: "Voters may be beginning to question the day-to-day competence of the Government, but Labour must worry it they may not as yet have lost faith in the strategic direction of the Coalition's economic management."

Fewer people believe Britain's economic problems are caused by cutting "too far, too fast" than blame a financial crisis caused by banks; the eurozone turmoil; excessive borrowing by Labour and the banks not lending.

Professor Curtice said the March Budget, on which Mr Osborne has made a string of U-turns, has had "more than an ephemeral effect on the public mood. He added: "The Conservatives have evidently paid a price for the mistakes and reverses of Conservative ministers in recent months."

As tensions between the Coalition parties grow, Professor Curtice suggested, Tory MPs could not so easily threaten the Liberal Democrats with an early election. "The Conservatives cannot now look forward to such a prospect with equanimity either," he said.

Yesterday there were signs that Nick Clegg is preparing to water down his flagship House of Lords Reform Bill in a final attempt to win over some of the 91 rebel Tory MPs who voted against it on Tuesday. To the surprise of some Liberal Democrat MPs, the Deputy Prime Minister is backing David Cameron's "one more try" approach and shares his view that the Bill cannot be allowed to dominate parliament for month after month if there is no chance that it will become law.

There is growing speculation that Mr Clegg would settle for between 50 and 100 peers being elected in 2015 to establish the principle if that salvaged his Bill, with parliament having the right to approve the election of more peers later.

As drafted, the measure proposes that 360 (80 per cent) of a 450-strong second chamber would be elected in three groups of 120 by 2025. Senior Liberal Democrats insisted last night that the party still supports the measure. "We are not throwing in the towel on this," one Clegg aide said.

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