The Conservatives have regained the lead against Labour in the latest Opinium poll for the Observer after a week in which the total number of deaths from Covid-19 passed 100,000.
The figures – showing the Tories on 41%, up four percentage points compared with two weeks ago, and Labour down three points on 38% – are a blow to Labour and will raise questions about whether the party’s progress has stalled under Keir Starmer.
With the country in its third lockdown and the death toll passing such a grim milestone, Labour MPs and activists would have hoped to be surging ahead of Boris Johnson and the Conservatives.
Instead it appears that Labour has hit a wall, and that Boris Johnson and the Conservatives may be beginning to gain a “vaccine dividend” as the inoculation programme gathers pace and hopes rise of an end to the period of restrictions.
In a further boost to Tory morale, Johnson has narrowly returned to the lead when voters are asked who would be the best prime minister. Some 33% now select Johnson (up three points) while 29% think Keir Starmer would make the best PM (down three).
In the poll the Liberal Democrats are on 7%, the SNP 5% and Plaid Cymru on 4%.
In the initial stages of the pandemic in early spring last year Johnson and the Tories pulled way ahead of Labour as the country rallied behind the government in a time of crisis.
But after the Tory lead over Labour peaked at 26 points in late March, Labour gradually clawed its way back after Starmer replaced Jeremy Corbyn as leader last April and Johnson and his ministers appeared to blunder in the fight to control Covid-19.
By August the two main parties were neck and neck. Since then the lead has changed regularly between the two parties.
While voters are still critical of the government’s overall response to the pandemic – 68% say Johnson and his ministers should have done more to stop the spread of coronavirus – the public’s view of how they have handled the vaccine rollout is far more favourable.
Net approval of the government’s vaccine programme has shot up in the past fortnight: 60% now approve of its vaccine handling (up from 47% a fortnight ago), while only 15% disapprove (compared with 23% in our last poll). This raises the government’s net approval rating on the vaccine up from +24% to +45% in two weeks.
Some 82% of those polled said they would take the vaccine if they were offered one, while 12% would not. Just over half (54%) backed including teachers on a list of priority occupations for the vaccine.
The poll was conducted mostly before news of the row with the European Union over the supply of vaccines broke.
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