Cabinet minister Alan Johnson has suggested that Labour is preparing for a general election campaign in April next year.
Mr Johnson told the BBC that “eight months before a general election”, Labour still has everything to play for, despite a brace of polls showing the Conservatives extending their double-figure lead.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown must call an election by June 3, 2010, at the latest, but many observers believe that the most likely date is May 6, to coincide with council polls across England.
Mr Johnson's eight-month projection would fit in with this timetable, allowing for a campaign to be held during April.
One of the polls published yesterday put the Conservatives above the psychologically important 40% mark for the first time since May, while in the other Labour struggled to maintain a single-point lead over the Liberal Democrats for second place.
Both surveys suggested that the recent surge in support for minor parties like Ukip, the British National Party and the Greens fuelled by the MPs' expenses scandal and the European elections may now be falling back.
A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times put the Tories 17 points ahead on 42% (up two since a similar survey last month) against Labour on 25% (up one) and Liberal Democrats on 18% (unchanged).
The Tory advantage was the largest recorded by the paper's regular monthly polls since September 2008, on the eve of the most intense phase of the banking crisis. A ComRes poll for the Independent on Sunday gave the Conservatives a 15-point lead on 38% (up two compared to a similar poll last month) against Labour's 23% (down two) and the Lib Dems' 22% (up three).
Both surveys saw minor parties slumping to a combined total of 15% in the YouGov poll and 16% according to ComRes.
Asked whether the results, less than 11 months before the last possible date for a general election, meant it was “game over” for Labour, Mr Johnson told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show: “Not at all. Where the Tories are, whether it's the late 30s or early 40s, eight months before a general election, everything is to play for here. It is game on.”
There was evidence in the YouGov poll that the Government had been hit by controversy over Gordon Brown's resourcing of the British military force in Afghanistan, where 16 soldiers have died since the start of July.
Some 60% of those questioned agreed Mr Brown was trying to fight the war “on the cheap”, against 20% who thought he was doing his best to provide the equipment needed by troops.
And just 24% thought that the Government's goal of stabilising Afghanistan was worth risking the lives of British troops. Meanwhile, some 64% of those questioned by ComRes said British forces should be withdrawn from Afghanistan “as quickly as possible”, against 33% who thought they should not.