At the outset of the financial crisis, Labour strenghtened in opinion polls as people turned to Gordon Brown, who they presumably saw as a safe pair of hands as he poured cash into the banks to keep them afloat. However, with ongoing controversy over bank bonuses and the interest rate cuts by the Bank of England having little effect on the UK's economy, the electorate appears to be edging back towards the Tories as recession hits.
The latest Populus poll for The Times has revealed that the bounce in Gordon Brown's ratings after the banking rescue has evaporated. Labour has dropped by five points to 28 per cent since last month, its lowest level for nearly six months. Although this isn't rock bottom (they hit 26% last summer) things are certainly heading in the wrong direction if the party wants to hold onto power.
Meanwhile, the Tories' support has fallen by one point since early January, bringing them to 42 per cent. Nonetheless, this still puts them a full 14 points ahead of Labour. The Liberal Democrats are up three points to 18 per cent.
With the European elections looming, the opposition parties will be rubbing their hands in delight. As the smaller parties in Northern Ireland and the Republic may well do, the Tories and LibDems will be most likely promoting June's poll as a referendum of sorts on the performance of the Labour government. The Tories may not be able to maintain the level of support shown in the Times poll through a general election, but the European elections (which many voters will rightly or wrongly see as being much less important) will present the electorate with an opportunity to send out a message to Labour if, as the polls suggest, they are unhappy with its performance.
Victoria Street will be hoping it can confound the polls and produce a decent showing in June.