Ignoring the threat? Cameron’s eye on ‘self-satisfied socialists’, not surging Ukip

David Cameron opened himself to accusations of ignoring Ukip this weekend, after polls charting the eurosceptic party's rise clashed with his spring conference speech's focus on Labour yesterday.

Pollsters ComRes' research for the Independent on Sunday and the Sunday Mirror put Ukip up three points to 17%, equalling its highest ever poll ranking.

Separate research by ICM for the Sunday Telegraph found right-wing voters responded more positively to Ukip's stance on key policy areas like immigration, austerity and gay marriage.

The prime minister chose to ignore Ukip completely in his spring conference speech, which made clear the "battle for Britain's future" was being fought with Ed Miliband's Labour.

"Anyone in this party who's in any doubt who we should be fighting, what we should be debating, where our energies should be focused – I tell you: our battle is with Labour," Cameron said on Saturday.

"Let's not mince our words: this is a bunch of self-satisfied, Labour socialists who think they can spend your money better than you can, make decisions better than you can and tell you what to do, and we should never, ever let that lot near government again.

"That's who we're fighting against."

Today's ComRes poll – which also saw the Tories slipping three points to 28% and Labour up one to 37% – will underline the party's concerns about their prospects in this year's council elections, 2014's European elections and the general election in 2015.

The situation is so bad that a sixth of the new Conservative MPs elected in 2010 are now reportedly looking for another job.

At least 25 backbenchers in marginal constituencies looking under threat in 2015 are said to be either actively job-seeking or are updating their CVs, the Sunday Express newspaper reported.

Ukip's emergence as the main protest vote against the three mainstream parties had been addressed by Cameron's EU speech in January, which was supposed to halt Nigel Farage's advance by promising an in-out referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union in the next parliament.

Ukip's strong performance in the Eastleigh by-election, beating the Tories into second place despite a concerted Conservative effort to take the seat off the Liberal Democrats, had unsettled many party members ahead of this weekend's conference, however.

Disquiet has extended all the way up the Tory ranks, triggering a bout of leadership speculation about potential manoeuvring from home secretary Theresa May.

And party grandee Sir Peter Tapsell, the father of the House, was quoted as saying this weekend he is "keeping his seat warm for Boris".

Former chief whip Andrew Mitchell fired a disciplinary warning against malcontents in an article for the Sunday Telegraph, ordering them to halt "tea-room talk" if they wanted to avoid a Conservative defeat.

“All those who fancy a shot at the title, whether currently serving in Cabinet or not, need to know that their personal ambition risks political calamity," he wrote.

"Your name will go down in history like that of the Malian military, whose coup precipitated the very defeat they sought to avoid."

Labour issued a defiant response to Cameron's speech, claiming his premiership was being defined by "failure" and "broken promises".

Vice-chair Michael Dugher said: "We need a change of direction with a one nation Labour government to build a country where everyone has a stake and prosperity is fairly shared. Fat chance of that with David Cameron."