Cameron moves to pacify Conservative grassroot members

Efforts to smooth relations follows ‘mad swivel-eyed loons’ comment

David Cameron: he emailed party members and acknowledged differences of opinion. Photograph: Brendan McDermid/Reuters

David Cameron: he emailed party members and acknowledged differences of opinion. Photograph: Brendan McDermid/Reuters

 

British prime minister David Cameron sought yesterday to smooth relations with angry grassroot members of his Conservative Party, insisting he would never have anyone close to him who “sneered” at them.

In the wake of Monday night’s Commons same sex marriage vote during which a Tory backbench minority failed to delay the Bill’s passage through parliament or have the proposed measures watered down, he emailed party members following weekend reports that a close ally dismissed grassroots activists as “mad, swivel-eyed loons”.

He acknowledged differences of opinion but insisted his policy on Europe, the other great party divider, was “right for the country” and urged party members to unite around a “great fight” on issues such as the economy, schools and welfare.


Opinion poll
Mr Cameron’s efforts came as an opinion poll by Survation suggested that the Eurosceptic UK Independence Party was two percentage points behind the Tories in popular support. The poll had the Conservatives on 24 per cent, Ukip on 22 per cent and Labour with a commanding lead of 35 per cent.

The Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, yesterday accused Mr Cameron of “picking a war with middle England” by pushing the issue of gay marriage.

Details of Mr Cameron’s plea for unity were made public after the Conservative Party board rejected a call for an investigation into whether its chair, Tory co-chairman Lord Feldman, was behind the “mad, swivel-eyed loons” slur.

The peer, who was not named in newspaper reports, was forced to deny making the comments after intense internet speculation. Brian Binley MP looked for an inquiry at a meeting but it was “pretty overwhelmingly rejected” and the board was “unanimous in its support for Andrew Feldman”, he said afterwards.

Although his call for an investigation was rejected, “it was felt that there was a need to look at the narrowing of the gap between the party in the country and the leadership”, the Northampton South MP said.

“I understand what David Cameron is saying about trying to reach out to more people than the Conservative Party, but he has to realise that he is the caretaker of the Conservative Party and not the proprietor of the Conservative Party.”

Dissent over issues such as gay marriage and Europe have fuelled complaints from some senior Conservative volunteers that Mr Cameron is out of touch with the views of his party and is helping fuel an exodus to Ukip.

In his email, Mr Cameron said he wanted to send a “personal note” in response to the reported “loons” jibe.


‘Deep, lasting friendship’
Stressing his own background as a volunteer and local branch chairman, Mr Cameron said: “We have been together through good times and bad. This is more than a working relationship; it is a deep and lasting friendship.”

He went on: “Above all, we Conservatives believe you change things not by criticising from your armchair but by getting out and doing. Time and again, Conservative activists like you stand for duty, decency and civic pride. That’s why I am proud to lead this party. I am proud of what you do. And I would never have around me those who sneered or thought otherwise.” – (PA)