Tories resist retreat to the right

Tories fight 'Brown bounce'
Tories fight 'Brown bounce'

David Cameron's wingmen have rallied around their leader as the Conservatives fend off the predicted Brown bounce.

Successive opinion polls have seen Gordon Brown reclaim a poll lead against the Conservatives, who have reportedly been briefed to "hold their nerve".

Senior Tories have insisted the party will keep to the centre ground rather than retreating to the right.

This follows calls from Edward Leigh, president of the Cornerstone group of MPs for a traditional policy focus on "low taxation, deregulation, strong immigration controls and strong defence".

Shadow chancellor George Osborne insisted the Tories will remain in the mainstream. He told BBC's Sunday AM:"We are not changing our strategy".

He also firmly rebutted suggestions the party may oust Mr Cameron, insisting there was "no prospect" of a leadership change.

Mr Cameron's modernising strategy had made the Conservatives "real players" again, Mr Osborne said, pointing to the party's recent election gains.

His comments were echoed by shadow education secretary David Willetts, who reiterated Mr Cameron's own warning to the Tories against descending into a debating society.

Speaking to Sky News' Sunday Live, Mr Willetts urged his fellow Tories not to retreat to the right.

He said: "It seems to me that deep in the tradition of the Conservative party is a commitment to trying to make this country a better place.

"The Conservative party is not a debating society that's supposed to engage in its own internal debates."

William Hague also insisted the Tories are behind their leader, dismissing Mr Brown's popularity as "some little opinion poll bounce".

Speculation is now mounting that Mr Cameron will respond with his own reshuffle of the shadow Cabinet. Mr Osborne admitted Mr Cameron will make sure the Tories have the "best team" to fight the new look Labour government.

Many commentators claim that, by promoting rising stars and younger politicians, Mr Brown has usurped Mr Cameron's youthful image.

While Mr Brown has given prominent positions to MPs from the 2005 intake, Mr Cameron has been more conservative in forming his Cabinet.

Party chairman Francis Maude is tipped for demotion in a reshuffle, while younger MPs such as Ed Vaizey and Michael Gove could be moved into more prominent positions.

Some within Labour have gone so far as to question Mr Cameron's own future. Ed Balls, freshly promoted to head up the new schools and children department, suggested Mr Cameron could be replaced before the next election.

"We must be prepared to take on William Hague or David Davis and fight a Tory party of the phoney centre, the right or even the hard right," he is quoted by the Telegraph as saying.

Mr Cameron had tried to offset a predicted Brown bounce by downplaying the prime minister's talk of change.

Senior Tories have pushed the line that the new Cabinet is full of the same old faces behind the past ten years.

Mr Maude said: "Just like Gordon Brown, they're part of the past not the future, so how can they deliver the change the country needs?"

Nevertheless, a Guardian/ICM poll over the weekend placed Labour on 39 per cent compared to the Tories on 25 per cent. A YouGov poll also saw a five point rise for Labour on 38, while the Tories are down five to 35.


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