POLITICS

Tory Divisions Over Europe Turn Ugly As Conservative Grassroots Labelled 'Mad Swivel-Eyed Loons'

18/05/2013 08:19 BST | Updated 18/05/2013 18:17 BST
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NUNEATON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 19: Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron addresses Conservative Party supporters at the Amberside Sports Club in Nuneaton on April 19, 2013 in Nuneaton, England. Cameron was launching the Conservative Party's local election campaign. (Photo by Darren Staples - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

UPDATE: Andrew Feldman has denied making 'mad swivel-eyed loons' comments and is seeking legal advice.

A top Tory has labelled Conservative grassroots "mad swivel-eyed loons" for pressuring Conservative MPs into supporting a eurosceptic amendment to the Queen's Speech, in comments which further lay bare the party's divisions over Europe.

Earlier this week some 114 Tories, plus two Conservative tellers, expressed "regret" that the government's legislative programme did not contain a bill paving the way for the in/out referendum on EU membership before 2017.

The comments were made at a private dinner by a member of David Cameron's inner circle, with the individual trying to play down accusations that the Tory party was in crisis. He said: "There's really no problem. The MPs just have to do it because the associations tell them to, and the associations are all mad swivel-eyed loons."

Relations between the party leadership and grassroots traditionalists have been strained by Mr Cameron's support for gay marriage and the perennially difficult issue of Europe. Some Tory MPs have now been sending angry tweets, defending their associations:

The remarks were instantly seized on by Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who wrote on Twitter: "If you are a Conservative supporter who believes in Ukip ideas then your party hates you. Come and join us."

The remarks were also criticised by Lord Ashcroft, who tweeted implied disdain for Mr Cameron, suggesting the criticism that came from the top of the party "wasn't working."

Speculation is now rife over who doled out the 'loon' label, with some seeking to smoke out the Tory 'connected to Cameron's inner social group.'

Some on social media have dubbed the Westminster storm in a tea cup #loongate, with a volley of tweets posted in connection to the imaginative insult.

Mr Cameron's authority could be dealt a further blow next week as the same-sex marriage legislation returns to the Commons, with Tory MPs given a free vote and able to oppose it if they wish.

Tory Defence Secretary Philip Hammond hit out at the Government's focus on gay marriage, saying there was a "real sense of anger" about it.

He said: "There was no huge demand for this and we didn't need to spend a lot of parliamentary time and upset vast numbers of people in order to do this."