Cameron praises 'duty and decency' of Conservative activists

David Cameron The prime minister emailed party workers in the wake of "swivel-eyed loons" reports

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David Cameron has sought to smooth relations with grassroots Tories after an unnamed ally of the PM reportedly called them "mad, swivel-eyed loons".

In an email to all party activists, Mr Cameron said he would never employ anyone who "sneered" at them and praised their "duty and decency".

But one backbench critic, Tory MP Brian Binley, said there was a "growing gap" between the PM and his party.

Tory co-chairman Lord Feldman denies claims he made the "loons" comment.

The PM needs the support of grassroots activists to help him campaign for an outright majority at the next general election.

But there is anger among some at his stance on gay marriage and Europe, with reports of defections to the UK Independence Party.

'Lasting friendship'

In his email to activists, Mr Cameron said he was "proud" of the work done by Conservative members and characterised his association with the party as a "deep and lasting friendship".

Start Quote

He may believe in them but we are talking about the gap between himself and the party”

End Quote Brian Binley Conservative MP

"Time and again, Conservative activists like you stand for duty, decency and civic pride," he said.

"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."

While party members would not agree on everything and there would always be "criticism from the sidelines", Mr Cameron urged activists to focus on what they had in common and on the bigger picture.

"We must remember what this party has always been about: acting in the national interest...We have a job to do for our country - and we must do it together."

On Monday, The Conservative Party Board rejected the idea of an investigation into the alleged "loon" comments - first reported by The Times and Daily Telegraph on Saturday.

'Angry'

Board member and Conservative MP Brian Binley wants the alleged insults fully investigated to prevent a widening of the rift between senior party figures and activists.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think David Cameron was elected leader because we thought he was a winner. He almost did win the election at a time when tribal politics was decreasing."

Mr Binley said the prime minister had "done a few things that the party in the country overall didn't want him to do".

He added: "He may believe in them but we are talking about the gap between himself and the party.

"I think it is a growing gap, I think it can be put right and I think David Cameron is listening as proved by the fact that actions are now being taken."

The Tory MP said his local party association was "really quite angry" about the "mad, swivel-eyed loons" reports.

'Regrettable'

"Clearly something was said and clearly we have got to have more control from the coterie around the leadership when they talk with the press because that's doing damage too."

Downing Street has said it was "categorically untrue" anyone working in Downing Street made the comments.

Major Conservative donor and former party treasurer Lord Ashcroft warned that the rows over Europe, gay marriage and "loongate" risk pitching the Tories into a "spiral of irrelevance".

Conservative donor Lord Ashcroft said it would be "worse than regrettable" if anyone at the top of the party had insulted grassroots activists - but he said the row over the alleged comments highlighted a problem facing the Conservatives.

He said activists need to decide whether they want the party to be "a vehicle for their views" or are prepared to "grin and bear" policies designed to broaden its appeal.

Latest polls

The leadership, for its part, need to show that the Conservative agenda extends beyond Europe and austerity, said the peer.

It comes as an opinion poll, by Survation, suggested a surge in support for UKIP, putting the anti-EU party just two points behind the Conservatives on 22%.

Labour slipped one point to 35% but saw its lead over the Tories stretch to 11 points. The Liberal Democrats were down one point at 11%.

A separate poll, taken by You Gov for The Sun showed a sharply different result, with Labour on 39%, the Tories on 31%, Ukip on 14% and the Lib Dems on 10%.

Unlike Survation, which asks respondents whether they would vote for Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems, UKIP or "another party", YouGov's poll prompts participants with the names of the three biggest parties, listing UKIP under "other parties".

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