Tony Blair's unpopularity has dragged Labour down to its lowest rating since the last general election, according to the results of the latest monthly "poll of polls" for The Independent.
The Conservatives averaged 37 per cent in the opinion polls taken in January, the same as in December, but Labour dropped two points to 32 per cent while the Liberal Democrats were up three points to 20 per cent. If the figures were repeated at the next election on the new constituency boundaries, Labour would lose its majority and the Tories would be the largest party in a hung parliament.
Labour MPs said the figures would add to the pressure on Mr Blair. Some backbenchers want him to quit sooner rather than later because of the damage being caused by the "cash-for-honours" affair.
"Labour has hit rock bottom again; its vote was down on December in every single regular poll," said John Curtice, the professor of politics at Strathclyde University, who compiled the figures from surveys conducted by ICM, Ipsos MORI, Populus, YouGov and CommunicateResearch.
He said the polls suggested that Labour faced another set of poor results in May in the elections to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and English local authorities.
"Other evidence last month suggests that Blair's shadow is hanging as heavily as it has ever done over his party," Professor Curtice said. Some 68 per cent of people are dissatisfied with him according to Ipsos MORI, the highest figure yet.
However, he believes that Labour's problems extend beyond Mr Blair because the party has lost its lead over the Tories on domestic issues. He said it was difficult to tell whether this was due to "the salesperson or the product". But the discontent with Labour appears deeper than "personal animus" towards its leader, with polls showing the impact of a switch to Gordon Brown would be "very uncertain".
The Tories have achieved their highest "poll-of-polls" rating since last May butthere is some evidence that David Cameron's personal star is beginning to wane. One possible explanation is that voters accept he has been good for the Tories but have growing doubts about his ability to make their own lives better.
The polls provide some comfort to the Liberal Democrats, who have won an increased share of the vote in four out of the five polls. But the personal ratings of Sir Menzies Campbell did not improve.
Yesterday, Lord Owen, the former leader of the SDP, said Sir Menzies should stand down before the next election for a younger person. "It is a pity they have a leader of the older generation," he told The Parliamentary Monitor magazine.
Lord Owen hoped the Tories would agree a pact with the Liberal Democrats if they were the largest party in a hung parliament. "I think there is common ground being established," he said.
Allies of Mr Blair said he had seen off any immediate threat to his position after plans to send a delegation to him to tell him to quit were shelved. Lord Kinnock, the former Labour leader, refused to lead such a delegation.
But the Prime Minister would face renewed pressure to quit if charges are laid after the police investigation into "cash for honours". "That would be a very different matter," one Labour MP said.
Poll of polls
Conservatives 37% (n/c)
Labour 32% (-2)
Lib-Dems 20% (+3)Reuse content