The Conservatives have plunged five points after weeks of growing sleaze controversy, pollsters Ipsos MORI survey reveal in tonight’s Evening Standard.
It will fuel Tory fears that the “drip drip” of allegations is undermining their hopes in the Hartlepool by election and in local and Scottish elections on May 6.
The pollsters found the Tories on 40 per cent, down from 45 per cent in March, three points clear of Labour who are on 37 per cent, down from 38. The monthly survey put the Liberal Democrats on eight (from six), and the Greens unchanged at five.
The data will dismay Labour MPs because they suggest Sir Keir Starmer has so far failed to capture voters getting disenchanted with the Government and the Prime Minister.
Watch: Conservatives and Labour both have reasons to be nervous about May's elections
In other key findings:
*Optimism about the economy is at its highest since August 2014, with a majority of 51 per cent predicting things will get better in the year ahead, against 36 per cent who think they will get worse.
*Backing for the Covid vaccine rollout remains sky high, with 86 per cent praising the Government for doing a good job, including 85 per cent of Labour supporters.
* Two thirds of people think the Government is relaxing coronavirus restrictions at the right speed. A fifth, 21 per cent, think the pace of unlocking it too quick, and only nine per cent think it too slow.
* Chancellor Rishi Sunak has the highest ratings for his handling of the pandemic, with six in 10 saying he has done well. The Government’s response overall is 45 per cent “done well” and 45 per cent “done badly”. The Prime Minister scores 42 per cent “well” and 46 per cent “badly” while for Sir Keir Starmer the score is 29-28.
Gideon Skinner, head of political research at Ipsos MORI, said: “Conservative supporters are feeling slightly less enthusiastic this month, which is feeding through into vote share, although there is little sign of much switching to Labour.
“At the same time, some of the underlying numbers remain more positive for the Government, with economic optimism increasing once again, and very strong ratings for the vaccination programme across the board, which means we need to wait to see whether this is just a short term effect. But this data suggests that the upcoming elections will be an important test for both parties.”
Former No 10 chief of staff Lord Barwell said Conservatives should beware a “tipping point” in the opinion polls.
He told Today: “The conservatives will be happy with the progress they’ve made during the course of this year but you never know when you reach a tipping point.
“And I suspect some people in number 10 will be worried about what else there might be to come. This morning’s headlines are an example of that.”
Lurid allegations in this morning’s papers included a claim that Mr Johnson said last autumn that he would rather see “bodies pile high in their thousands” than order a third lockdown.
The alleged quotation, attributed to a “source” by the Daily Mail, was described as “just another lie” by a spokesman at No 10.
Watch: PM denies 'bodies could pile high’ comment
As allegations swirled today, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace denied the PM said he would prefer to see bodies pile up than another lockdown. “Look, it is not true,” he told Sky News. “It has been categorically denied by practically everyone.
“We are getting into the sort of comedy chapter now of these gossip stories - unnamed sources, by unnamed advisers talking about unnamed events.”
Health minister Nadine Dorries tweeted: “This is an outright lie. Not one named source or substantiated fact.
But Labour’s Kate Green said the Conservatives were “fighting like rats in a sack”.
She called for an independent inquiry to settle the “very troubling allegations” around the Downing Street refurbishment.
She told Today: “I’m glad they (the Electoral Commission) are looking into it because clearly these are very troubling allegations and they go to the heart of ethics and integrity in our Government, and transparency.
“It seems to me that as long as there is uncertainty, there is doubt and innuendo and rumour about who is getting contracts, who is paying for the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat, who is in and who is out.
“This is distracting the Government. They are not getting on with the right priorities for the country because they are busy fighting among themselves and seeking to throw up smokescreen.”
* Ipsos MORI interviewed 1090 adults across GB by telephone from April 16 to 22. Data are weighted. Full details at www.ipsos-mori.com
Watch: Local election campaigning ramps up