The row over Lord Ashcroft's tax status has failed to damage support for the Conservatives, according to a new poll which puts the party nine points ahead of Labour.
The News of the World/ICM survey put the Tories up three points to 40 per cent, with Labour falling one to 31 per cent and the Liberal Democrats down two points to 18 per cent. The poll is the first time the Tories have attained the psychologically crucial figure of 40 per cent for a fortnight.
However, if repeated at a general election on a uniform swing, the latest figures would still leave David Cameron six seats short of an overall majority. The Tories would have 320 seats, Labour 260, the Liberal Democrats 40 and others 30.
Meanwhile, the Tories' lead over Labour in key policy areas has fallen. Last October, the Tories led Labour by 15 points as the party best equipped to deal with the recession, but that lead has now fallen to just two points. Voters now rate Labour as the party with the best policies on taxation, terrorism, the environment and Afghanistan.
But the Tories have increased their lead on immigration and on the traditionally Labour issue of the NHS.