"The Party urgently needs to return to core Conservative values if we are to stand any chance of winning…”
It’s a line heard daily across thousands of talk radio shows, and on the comment boards of political websites across the US, as “grassroot” Republicans bemoan the disconnect between the rank and file and the party leadership.
Only this wasn’t Rand Paul, Marco Rubio or even the increasingly bizarre Ted Nugent.
Cameron and the defeated Hutchings on the campaign trail
This plea for a return to core values was made by Bob Woollard, chairman of Conservative Grassroots, a group set up by former and current chairmen of Tory associations who oppose gay marriage, following the Tory’s embarrassing defeat in the Eastleigh by-election on Friday.
In the US, the fracture between the Washington GOP and its membership beyond the capital has reached such a level as to make remote the prospect of a Republican government in the near future.
Likewise, the increasing divergence between Westminster Conservatives and traditional Tory voters looks certain to scupper any chance of the party improving its precarious position in the next general election.
At the heart of the split is Cameron’s devotion to gay marriage, a policy drive fiercely opposed by the Tory candidate in Eastleigh, Maria Hutchings, who left the count in silence having finished third behind the Lib Dems and Ukip.
It was a point not lost on Woollard.
"Maria was a true grassroots candidate who declared that she was opposed to the Same Sex Marriage Bill,” he said.
“However voters tend to pay more attention to the direction of the national party and the current direction is clearly not one that connects with Conservative voters.”
Tory backbencher Eleanor Laing was equally scathing of the “hurtful” Tory leadership, who she said had abandoned “ordinary Conservative voters”.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4's World At One, the MP for Epping Forest said, “ordinary Conservative voters don't feel that this government is in tune with them,” adding that Cameron and his Westminster coterie were not “tuning in to the hopes and fears of the vast majority of ordinary people out there in Britain today”.
Although avoiding talk of gay marriage, Laing made the pointed remark that “social change should come about by evolution not by diktat from the top of government,” a not to cryptic clue as to where she believes the current wedge between government and Tory voters resides.
She added: "It's hurtful to people who want to believe in a Conservative Party that represents them. In my own constituency, on the doorsteps in Eastleigh, and generally people that I talk to, do you know what, they actually feel hurt.
"They feel hurt and they feel left out. They're told that they're old-fashioned and they think that they don't matter and that what they stand for, and what they believe in, doesn't matter. Those people who for decades have put their faith in the Conservative Party.
"I'm afraid that there is a very large number of Members of Parliament on the Conservative benches now who come back from their constituencies every weekend in despair about the number of people who are resigning from the Party."
Reported by the Evening Standard, serial Tory rebel Stewart Jackson offered similar sentiments on Cameron, saying he was "out of touch with the party".
He added: "Both gay marriage and EU migration feed into a narrative that too much emphasis is going to the Liberal metropolitan elite and not enough to the blue-collar working vote that Margaret Thatcher had the support of.”
Writing in the Daily Telegraph on Friday, Tory grandee Lord Tebbit neatly summed up the lesson of Eastleigh. “If a party leader kicks his own supporters often enough they will kick back," he said.
It was a point echoed by Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, whose candidate finished second ahead of the Tories. "Cameron’s problem his own supporters don't look upon him as a conservative," he said, basking in the glow of the Eastleigh result.
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