The Conservatives have overtaken Labour as the party voters would most like to see run the NHS and the education system, a new poll reveals.
The ICM survey for The Guardian finds that overall, Labour would win just 34 per cent of the vote if there was a general election tomorrow, compared to 38 per cent for the Tories and just 20 per cent for the Liberal Democrats.
This is an increase for Labour of two points on last month, which was to be expected following the row over immigration and the NHS, but more worryingly marks a rise of four points for the Tories, taking them to their highest level for 13 years.
Of particular concern to the government will be its loss of support on key public services - the poll finds 30 per cent of voters believe the Tories have the best policies on education, compared to 28 per cent for Labour and 13 per cent for the Liberal Democrats.
On health, another area in which Labour have traditionally been far ahead of their rivals, the Tories also take a narrow lead, with 26 per cent support, compared to 24 per cent and 13 per cent for Labour and the Lib Dems respectively.
This comes despite record investment in public services since 1997, with education spending rising from £38.6 billion when Labour came to power to £65.8 billion last year, and health spending increasing from £44.7 billion to £82.5 billion over the same period.
It suggests revelations of NHS job cuts and mounting deficits are beginning to take their toll - not to mention the resurgence of the Tories under David Cameron, who has promised that the health service would be safe in his hands.
There is some good news for Tony Blair, as his party is still leading on the economy, recording 37 per cent of support on this issue, compared to the Tories' 30 per cent and the Lib Dems' nine per cent.
But on the question of personal authority, the prime minister is being seen increasingly as yesterday's man, with Gordon Brown, widely expected to succeed him, leading Mr Blair by 24 points on managerial competence and by 20 points on trust.
Most voters still think Mr Blair has the broadest appeal, with 43 per cent backing him and 40 per cent the chancellor, but Mr Brown was named by 41 per cent of respondents as the person most likely to make them vote Labour, compared to just 26 per cent for Mr Blair.
Among Labour voters, however, there is more pessimism about the party's future under Mr Brown - 55 per cent of them think Mr Blair has a wider appeal and 44 per cent say he would be better at getting the vote out, compared to 42 per cent for Mr Brown.
The prime minister fares badly on the issue of spin across the board, with 53 per cent of all voters, and 49 per cent of Labour voters, saying he was more likely to gloss issues to his advantage than Mr Brown.