Alien Tories have an image problem
Alien Tories have an image problem (Reuters)

An astonishing claim that David Cameron has failed in his bid to modernise the Tories, throw off the "nasty party" image and put them on course for outright election victory has come from one of the prime minister's closest allies.

Arch moderniser, frontbencher Nick Boles, suggests that the Conservatives stand no chance of winning power at the next election because they are viewed by many as "aliens from another planet".

Whole swathes of the electorate in the vital South East and younger age groups will never countenance voting Tory because they believe they are the "party of the rich" and do not trust their motives, he said.

He called for more liberal policies such as gay marriage to be "shouted from the rooftops" and even suggested the revival of the long-dead National Liberal Party to attract younger voters and form an electoral pact with the Conservatives.

There is no possibility of that happening and Cameron has not welcomed Boles' intervention which has come at a time when he is already facing challenges from former prime minister Sir John Major and others on the modernising wing of the party.

They believe the prime minister has abandoned the socially liberal hug-a-hoodie, vote blue-go-green agenda in a drive to take the party back to its old comfort-blanket polices designed to appeal to its core voters who tend to be more right-wing.

He has not repeated his description of himself as a "liberal Conservative" for a very long time and his Big Society project has long ago run into the ground.

His internal critics particularly blame the prime minister's elections guru Lynton Crosby who has told him to "clear the barnacles off the boat" in the run-up to the election. That has seen those liberal social policies played down and the green agenda stalled as Cameron has concentrated on economic austerity, tax cuts and immigration.

Cameron was always combined liberal social policies with a more traditional, almost Thatcherite economic policy but, of late, the party has appeared split over the social policies, notably gay marriage, and frontbenchers have been reluctant to brag about them.

But Cameron has the added problem that, as Boles says, his background and bearing mark him out as a rich, privileged individual who is out of touch with the lives of ordinary voters.

"The single biggest factor preventing people voting Conservative is the perception that we are the party of the rich. We have not done enough to reassure people about our motives," he said in a speech to the Bright Blue think tank.

He also claimed the Liberal Democrats were being allowed to succeed in painting the Tories as heartless.

"I did not realise that our coalition partners would do everything in their power to paint us as heartless extremists. And I underestimated the readiness of some in the Conservative party, and the press, to play up to the caricature and thereby fall squarely into their trap," he said.

When Cameron was elected Tory leader in 2005, his stated aim was to detoxify the Tory brand and tear up the label "the nasty party". He embarked on a significant agenda of change, dropped the old party logo in favour of a tree, urged more love for disaffected youth and was pictured with Huskies as part of his pro-green agenda.

Those images now seem from another age and Boles is echoing the fear of many on the modernising wing of the party that the project has stalled and, as a result, will deny the Tories election victory.