The Government has failed in its efforts to persuade the public that the eurozone crisis is mainly responsible for the recession in Britain, according to a poll for The Independent.
The ComRes survey suggests that people are evenly divided over whether the Government's own policy or the single currency is to blame. David Cameron and George Osborne have repeatedly claimed the turmoil in the eurozone is having a "chilling effect" on the UK economy. But Labour argues that the double-dip recession was "made in Downing Street" by spending cuts that were "too far, too fast".
Asked whether the Government is more to blame than the eurozone crisis for the lack of economic growth in Britain, 43 per cent of people agree and 42 per cent disagree, with 15 per cent saying "don't know".
More than a quarter of Conservative voters (27 per cent) agree that the Government is more to blame, while 64 per cent disagree. Over a third of Liberal Democrat voters (36 per cent) agree, with 51 per cent disagreeing. Labour supporters agree by a majority of 58 per cent to 30 per cent that the Government is more to blame.
The findings suggest Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne face an uphill struggle to persuade the public that the Coalition's economic strategy has not caused the slide back into recession. But Tory sources said last night that the figures also showed that Labour had not won the argument that the cuts were to blame.
According to ComRes, Labour enjoys a nine-point lead over the Conservatives, down slightly from its 10-point advantage in the previous ComRes survey for The Independent on Sunday two weeks ago.
Labour is now on 42 per cent (unchanged), the Conservatives 33 per cent (up one point), the Liberal Democrats 13 per cent (up four points) and other parties 12 per cent (down five points). On the proposed new constituency boundaries, this would give Labour an overall majority of 94 and leave the Liberal Democrats with just 16 seats.
Mr Cameron's problems on Europe mounted yesterday when he was accused of creating further confusion over whether he would call a referendum on the UK's relationship with the EU.
In a Commons statement on last week's EU summit, the Prime Minister appeared to back away from a newspaper article on Sunday in which he opposed an "in or out" referendum on EU membership. Yesterday, the Tory Eurosceptic Julian Lewis asked him: "Is it your position that on any referendum on Europe, while you are PM, the option of voting to leave the EU will not appear on the ballot paper?"
Mr Cameron replied: "That is not what I've said. What I've said is I don't support an immediate in/out referendum. I believe we should show strategic and tactical patience in this and then what I want to see is a fresh settlement, that we seek fresh consent for. The right time to determine questions about referendums and the rest of it is after we have that fresh settlement."
Cameron aides insisted that his position had not changed and said his words were consistent with his previous statement. The Prime Minister came under strong pressure from his own MPs to pass legislation before the next election committing the Government to a referendum afterwards. But he ruled that out, saying the EU was changing rapidly.
Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, admitted he had "different instincts" to Mr Cameron on the issue. He said: "It is clearly not a priority now to have an abstract debate about a referendum on a question which is not yet specified on a date which is not yet specified on a set of circumstances which is not yet specified."
ComRes interviewed 1,003 British adults by telephone between 29 June and 1 July. Data was weighted to be demographically representative of all British adults and by past vote recall. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at comres.co.uk