No more funny business, Cameron promises revolting Tories
David Cameron has promised his party he will be "absolutely focused" on the coalition's core issues for the remainder of this parliament, in his latest attempt to reconnect with his divided and fractious party grassroots.
The Conservative party leader managed to combine defiance over the recent past with a placatory stance over the future as he suggested to party members he would concentrate on the economy, welfare and education reform in the run-up to the next general election.
Cameron accepted the coalition's push for gay marriage, which was not in the Conservatives' 2010 manifesto, had divided his party.
He also acknowledged the recent row over the European Union referendum had been disruptive, conceding: "The Conservative party managed to have a disagreement over an issue we actually agree about."
Both issues have generated intense hostility among Tory backbenchers to their leader. One eurosceptic ringleader told Politics.co.uk the prime minister will always be treated with suspicion because he is "fundamentally a europhile at heart".
Another senior Conservative backbencher, one of the 116 MPs who voted against his party leader's policy on gay marriage earlier this week, told this website: "It is never good when a prime minister repeatedly asks his party to support a policy which they don't agree with."
The Conservative leader has even been obliged to accept support from his coalition partner Nick Clegg, who is using a speech this morning to prop up his colleague by telling the Tories to "get back to governing".
Cameron argued the Tory party was "modern" enough to cope with divisions on issues like gay marriage.
"The Conservative party has always been a broad church and that is exactly what it will be and will continue to be under my leadership," he said.
On Europe, he rejected the views of those like former chancellor Nigel Lawson who believe Britain will not succeed in wringing enough changes to its relationship with Brussels to ever justify remaining inside the EU.
"I think there's every prospect of a successful renegotiation," he argued.
"Britain does best when we engage with the world, when we're outward looking and we play to our strengths.
"I don't accept the narrative that says the only way Britain can succeed is to pull up the drawbridge… that's not the way Britain has ever succeeded."
Many Tory supporters are fearful of the steady growth in support of Ukip, which national polls now put within two percentage points of Conservative backing.
Cameron repeated his message about concentrating on the government's core issues from now on.
"There's no point in insulting a party that people have chosen to vote for in large numbers," he said.
"The task of the Conservative party is to listen to those people and try to win them back by addressing the issues they care about." He again cited the economy, welfare system and Britain's schools, adding, "that is what we must focus on".
The prime minister was forced to email party members insisting he is one of them after reports over the weekend suggested a member of his Downing Street inner circle had described Tory activists as "swivel-eyed loons".
"I think sometimes the media have a view there's a complete disconnect between politicians who stand for election and the volunteers who support us," he said.
"I am one of them. If I wasn't a MP, I'd be with them supporting my MP.
"The Conservative party are immensely proud of the fact we got back into government, that we're doing important things for our country… they see what I see which is this is a profoundly radical reforming government that is taking on some issues previous Conservative governments weren't able to."
The prime minister reaffirmed his commitment to Clegg and the Lib Dems for the next two years. When asked whether he would continue governing until polling day he said: "That is absolutely my intention and always has been."