By Ian Dunt

Support for the Conservatives is finally high enough to suggest the party could win an outright majority at the next general election, according to a new poll.

The Guardian/ICM poll put the Tories five points ahead of Labour, riding a 22-month high.

The Conservatives are on 40%, while Labour is on 35%, down one, and the Liberal Democrats are up one on 16%.

The results seem to substantiate the arguments of those who said Ed Miliband's decision to back government cuts would alienate his own support while failing to win the backing of Tory-leaning voters.

Ten per cent of respondents said Labour's tougher line on cuts would make them more likely to vote for the party but 13% said it would make them less likely. The overwhelming majority of voters – 72% – said they were unaffected by it.

There was some small improvement for Labour in the public's assessment of who would better run the economy. A five per cent increase on December's showing saw 28% of respondents say they would trust Mr Miliband and Ed Balls to run the economy. But the coalition's economic team continued to perform strongly, with 46% support – up two from December.

Worryingly for Labour, which spent considerable energy highlighting Mr Cameron's alleged problem with women, the majority of female voters now prefer the prime minister, by 40% to 38%. The Tory appeal to men is well ahead, by 43% to 34%.

Labour is losing support in the clerical and skilled worker sections of the population, while the Tories maintain their strong lead among professionals. The group Labour is increasingly relying on is the lower DE socioeconomic class, where it holds a substantial lead.

This corresponds to the geographic picture, with the north-south divide being as acute as ever. The Tories enjoy a 12-point lead in the south while Labour is ahead by five points in the north.