Business leaders are more upbeat about the prospects of economic recovery than at any time since the recession began, according to a poll for The Independent.
The ComRes survey of 170 leading businessmen found that 38 per cent detect signs of recovery in their sector, up from 33 per cent last month and the highest figure since the "green shoots" index was launched. Fifty per cent see no evidence of revival, the lowest figure to date, while 12 per cent "don't know".
Gordon Brown is plotting an autumn fightback in which he will claim the Government's actions stopped the recession from turning into a depression. Ministers are increasingly optimistic that growth will return around the end of this year, in line with the forecast the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, made in his April Budget.
But the Bank of England has warned the recovery will be "slow and protracted" and the survey suggests Labour may struggle to reap a political benefit from an improving economy.
Labour will contrast the "strong team" of Mr Brown and Mr Darling with the less experienced David Cameron and George Osborne, urging voters not to take a chance on a Tory government when experience can help a sustainable recovery. It will portray Mr Osborne as the Tories' "Achilles heel".
But among businessmen at least, such attacks look unlikely to hit home. ComRes found that they have more confidence in the Tory economics team than in Labour. Only 18 per cent of business leaders are confident in the ability of Mr Brown and 19 per cent in Mr Darling, while Mr Cameron enjoys the confidence of 53 per cent and Mr Osborne 41 per cent.
The most trusted politician on the economy is Kenneth Clarke, the Shadow Business Secretary, who has a 62 per cent "confidence rating". The Lib Dems' economic spokesman Vince Cable has 53 per cent.
Tomorrow the Tories will attack Labour's record by revealing that five million people have never worked under this government, three million have not had a job since before 1996 and a further three million have never had a job.