From bounce to backlash. The Conservative Party lead over Labour at the opinion polls has rocketed from five to 15 points in one month, with voters turning against Gordon Brown as the recession bites.
The ComRes survey for The Independent puts the Tories on 43 per cent (up four points on last month), Labour on 28 per cent (down six), the Liberal Democrats on 16 per cent (unchanged) and other parties on 13 per cent (up two). The research shows Labour at its lowest standing since September's survey; the party has slumped back to where it stood before Mr Brown won international plaudits for the Government's rescue of the banks last autumn.
The figures would give David Cameron an overall majority of 120 if repeated at a general election. Labour's lead over the Tories on economic competence, which grew after the initial bank rescue, has been eroded. In November, 47 per cent of people trusted Mr Brown and Alistair Darling most to steer Britain through the downturn, with 28 per cent choosing Mr Cameron and George Osborne and4 per cent the Liberal Democrats' Nick Clegg and Vince Cable. Now the Brown-Darling team is trusted by 35 per cent, Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne by 33 per cent and Mr Clegg and Mr Cable by 7 per cent.
And people are sceptical about whether the Government's measures to combat the recession will work. Only a third (33 per cent) believe it has put in place the right solutions, 58 per cent do not. Over half (55 per cent) believe the temporary cut in VAT is "foolish", against 39 per cent disagreeing.
Forty-nine per cent of people doubt whether the Government's attempts to solve the banking crisis will work. The reservations are shared across the political spectrum: by a margin of 48 to 43 per cent, Labour voters do not believe in the measures on the banks.
The Tories have regained the lead in every age group and enjoy a 40 per cent-plus rating in every social group.
Labour's slump will not come as a surprise to ministers, who have been expecting a voter backlash as job losses have mounted since Christmas. They are braced for a "long haul" and admit privately the recession will last longer than forecast in November by Mr Darling, who predicted a recovery in the second half of this year.
The dramatic drop in Labour's support almost certainly kills off any remaining prospect of Mr Brown calling a general election this year. "It looks like we will be going long," one Labour source said yesterday. An election must be held by June 2010.
In his first interview since rejoining the front bench, Mr Clarke yesterday warned that the crisis was "deepening", Britain had "a feeling of national emergency", and the Government was failing to force banks to lend.
"We've not achieved the objective of getting the banking system to work normally, lending to good businesses and people who can afford mortgages," he said. "Package after package has come out in a panic-stricken stream from the Government and a lot of that money's already been lost."
Yet voters appear to have doubts about Mr Cameron's frontbench team. Despite last week's decision to recall the former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke to the Shadow Cabinet, 49 per cent of people think the team "lightweight"; 38 per cent do not. A surprisingly high 39 per cent of supporters regard the team as lightweight, up from 36 per cent last November. However, the Tory vote appears more solid than Labour's. Some 92 per cent of people who call themselves natural Tories say they will vote for the party, compared with 83 per cent of Liberal Democrat "identifiers" and 80 per cent of Labour ones.
Some 93 per cent of those who voted Tory at the last election say they still support the party now, compared with 75 per cent of those who voted Labour in 2005 and 69 per cent of those who backed the Liberal Democrats.
ComRes telephoned 1,012 GB adults on 21-22 January 2009. Data were weighted by past vote recall. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at www.comres.co.uk