The UK Independence Party has surged to a record poll rating, knocking the Liberal Democrats into fourth place.
The ComRes poll for The Independent on Sunday and the Sunday Mirror put UKIP on 14% – a six-point gain on last month and the party’s highest rating in a ComRes poll.
Two other polls in Sunday newspapers – the Observer’s Opinium and the Mail On Sunday Survation – also put UKIP at 14%.
The findings will alarm Tory MPs who fear the party is haemorrhaging support over issues such as Europe, the economy and its support for gay marriage.
The ComRes poll, which interviewed 2,002 people online between December 12 and 14, put the Conservatives on 28%, down three points from a month ago and 11 points behind Labour, who are down four on 39%.
Support for the Lib Dems is down to single figures at 9%, a one-point fall on the month, which puts five points between them and Nigel Farage’s party.
Mr Farage told Sky News: “All the way through UKIP’s history people have doubted what UKIP can achieve.
“We’ve shown in the last two European elections what we’re capable of – and I would remind people in 2009 that we came second across the entire United Kingdom.
“And what’s happened in 2012 is that all the big issues that we’ve campaigned long and hard for for many, many years – and taken much abuse for – those issues have become absolutely at the centre ground of what people out there are talking about.
“Unless we see some really substantial change from the Government and from the Labour party in particular – with a U-turn on Europe, open-door immigration, gay marriage and other things – there’s no reason to think that this level of support for UKIP can’t be maintained.”
Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles told Sky’s Murnaghan programme that he takes UKIP, which he describes as “a party of dissent”, very seriously.
“They represent a voice, and I am very firmly of the view the only way to deal with is to get dug in, and to fight them on the ground on community issues,” he said.
But Mr Pickles said this does not mean the Tories should not form a pact with UKIP.
“I think it is absolutely wrong (that it can be) always assumed that some kind of deal could be done and people would flood back to us. Governments sometimes have to make some very difficult decisions,” he said.
He also said: “I think it’s important that if we do have a referendum on our future with Europe it’s got to be on the basis of not trying to outsmart UKIP or trying to ensure that we can bring the whole conservative party in one – it should be in the national interest.”