Tories warned against ‘right-wing debating society’

David Cameron has continued to face internal divisions over his dismissal of grammar schools, with some within the party claiming it risks become Mr Cameron’s “clause four moment”.

Tony Blair stamped his leadership on the Labour party, and risked splitting the party’s traditional left wing, when he removed clause four – which committed the party to working towards public ownership of the economy – from the party’s constitution to re-brand New Labour.

Now Mr Cameron has been accused of abandoning a core Conservative tradition by seeming to reject selection in state education.

But like Mr Blair he insists it is essential to modernise the party and restore its electoral credibility.

Mr Cameron asked: “Does it [The Conservatives] want to be a serious force for government and change, or does it want to be a Right-wing debating society muttering about what might have been?”

Backbench Conservative MPs have been deeply critical of Mr Cameron’s position, which is supported by shadow education minister David Willetts, and some shadow ministers are rumoured to be close to resignation.

Right wing parties the UK Independence Party (Ukip) and the BNP are hoping to attract dissatisfied Tory voters, both claiming to be the “only party” to still support grammar schools.

Mr Cameron has attempted to stem a potential rebellion, maintaining that his comments do not mark a radical departure for the party and are inline with its traditional values.

He insists he remains committed to preserving existing grammar schools and points out that neither Margaret Thatcher or John Major called for a return to a two-tier educational system.

Educational selection was deeply unpopular with parents and this is why it has been dropped as a commitment, Mr Cameron argued.

Calling for its return would be an “electoral albatross” not a “winning slogan,” he warned.

A nostalgia for grammar school system betrays a “kind of hopelessness”, he claimed, as it implies government will never be able to offer a decent education to all.

Grammar schools fail because they only offer a “ladder of opportunity” to some, not the many. Mr Cameron attempted to tie this in with a traditional Conservative philosophy.

“Every true Conservative believes in aspiration and opportunity for all,” he claimed.

Both Ukip and the BNP have attempted to capitalise on any split among Tory supporters.

Ukip’s leader Nigel Farage said Mr Cameron is out of touch with public opinion and claimed his party is now the only one to support grammar schools.

Speaking to BBC1’s Sunday AM programme, he claimed an “awful lot” of backbenchers are “very tired of the Cameron project,” and predicted future splits in the party.

The BNP also claimed to be the “only party” backing grammars, and hope this claim will hope them win over dissatisfied Tory voters.