Page last updated at 17:00 GMT, Thursday, 28 August 2008 18:00 UK

Voters 'getting grumpy with Labour'

By Laura Kuenssberg
BBC News political correspondent

Gordon Brown
Mr Brown's rating was slightly higher than Labour's

Downing Street might be relieved that, relatively speaking, Gordon Brown has pretty much survived the summer recess unscathed.

But people at the top of the Labour Party know full well it will take a lot more than avoiding political disasters to save them.

That is not just because poll after poll through the summer has suggested that the Conservatives have been consolidating their lead over Labour - a position that suggests they would hoover up votes on an enormous scale, potentially like a 1997 landslide.

Other numbers show how the attitude of the electorate is changing in respects that make a Labour recovery even more of an uphill battle.

Why? Well, pollsters Ispos-Mori gave the BBC access to their latest research. Senior Labour politicians see this stuff too - for them, it must be painful.

This research fits the general pattern of other recent polls, with the Conservatives well in front.


Other surveys have put them at 15 or 16 points ahead. But Ipsos-Mori put the Conservatives 24 points ahead - the biggest lead ever recorded in that particular survey.

If this poll's indications are accurate, this puts David Cameron in the same position that Tony Blair reached just before the 1997 election.

But if Labour were to go through the trauma of changing its leader, it might not make a jot of difference.

The numbers suggest voters' view of the government is now as bad, in fact a few points worse, than their impression of Mr Brown.

Some 76% of people asked said they were dissatisfied with the way the government was running the country, while 71% were unhappy with the prime minister.

However, that measly difference cannot be any consolation to Mr Brown. His personal ratings now stack up next to those of John Major at the time of Black Wednesday.

What is also stark is the sense of economic pessimism in this research.

The economy is now the number one issue that people say they will take into consideration when deciding how to vote, and the verdict is grim - nearly three quarters of people say the economy is on the way down.

Personal optimism

According to Ispsos-Mori, no government has ever won an election when voters are feeling that disheartened about the country's financial future.

Intriguingly though, the research suggests that a majority of people are still optimistic about their own circumstances.

That is not the only area where there people's view of their own situation does not match their understanding of the bigger picture.

Patient satisfaction with the NHS is at a high not seen since the 1960s, Ipsos-Mori suggests. Yet when asked, more than half the population agrees with the view that it is "in crisis".

Parents' view of the education that their children receive is improving, but that is not reflected in the general view that things in the UK are "getting worse".

Worryingly for Labour, both of those issues - two of the three (the only other one is housing) where they have managed to either stay ahead, or keep even, with the Tories - have slipped down the list of voters' priorities.

The electorate has a short memory, and while people's perceptions of the public services they receive is more positive than before 1997, Labour cannot expect much credit for it at the ballot box.

This is just one set of numbers: suggestions not certainties.

Of course there is a chance that Labour could start to pull it back. No one could have predicted how rapidly its reputation would slide.

And only a fool would predict that there is no way this pattern can change. But for now, the indications are that Britain is becoming grumpier, and it knows who it wants to blame.

Labour MPs might feel that more than just the summer holidays are coming to an end.

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