Labour is heading for a crushing defeat in Thursday's parliamentary by-election in Crewe and Nantwich, according to a ComRes poll for The Independent.
The survey puts the Conservative Party on 48 per cent, Labour on 35 per cent, the Liberal Democrats on 12 per cent and other parties on 5 per cent. The projected 14 per cent swing to the Tories would easily allow David Cameron's party to overturn the 7,780 majority Labour enjoyed at the last general election.
Such a humiliating setback for Gordon Brown would revive the debate inside Labour as to whether he should lead the party into the general election. Labour MPs believe their party's portrayal of the Tory candidate Edward Timpson as a "toff" has backfired and many admit the abolition of the 10p tax rate has alienated Labour voters.
There is more bad news for Mr Brown. ComRes found that only 13 per cent of people in Crewe regard him as an asset to his party, while 60 per cent see him as a liability. Only 9 per cent of women and 16 per cent men view the Prime Minister as an asset. Labour supporters are evenly split, with 33 per cent regarding him as an asset to the party and 34 per cent a liability.
In contrast, 82 per cent of those polled in Crewe believe Mr Cameron is an asset to his party. More Labour supporters (37 per cent) see him as an asset than think he is a liability (28 per cent). So more Labour supporters view Mr Cameron as an asset to the Tories than believe Mr Brown is an asset to Labour.
People have not yet formed a clear view about Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader. By a two-to- one margin (22 per cent to 11 per cent) they believe he is an asset rather than a liability to his party, but 33 per cent say he is "neither" and 34 per cent say they do not know. Less than half of Liberal Democrat supporters (45 per cent) think he is an asset, 7 per cent a liability.
Sixty-two per cent said they were "absolutely certain to vote" on Thursday, higher than the 60 per cent turnout in Crewe at the 2005 election. But only 22 per cent of 18- to 24 year-olds are certain to vote. Some 80 per cent of Tory supporters are certain to vote, compared to 71 per cent of those intending to vote Labour and 67 per cent of Liberal Democrat supporters.
The ComRes findings suggest the Tories have extended their lead in Crewe. Nine days ago, an ICM survey put the Tories four points ahead. On Sunday, another ICM poll suggested the lead had doubled.
Although by-elections are seen as one-off events, if the ComRes share of the vote figures were repeated at a general election, the Tories would win an overall majority of 112.
Stephen Ladyman, a former Labour minister, said the party's attack on Mr Timpson been "a little crude" and the party's campaigning should become "a lot sharper" before the general election.
ComRes telephoned 1,001 adults in Crewe and Nantwich on 15-18 May, 2008. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables available at www.comres.co.ukReuse content