Top Tories fear a return to 'nasty party' image

Rhetoric about benefit "scroungers" and "skivers" used by the Conservatives will be toned down after a backlash from their own ministers and MPs, who fear the attacks could revive the Tories' image as "the nasty party".

Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has joined the criticism of the language used by Conservative Campaign HQ and the Chancellor George Osborne, pictured. Mr Duncan Smith was appalled by a Tory online advert last month showing a young man on a sofa, asking whether the Government should support "hard-working families or people who won't work".

Yesterday the Tories ran a different ad, attacking Labour and saying they were "standing up for hard-working people".

Last night, the Government got a green light for its plan to cap rises in most benefits to 1 per cent for the next three years when MPs voted in favour of the Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill.

Some Liberal Democrat backbenchers voted against the Bill, even though it was backed by Nick Clegg. Labour adopted the high-risk strategy of opposing the measure but claims public opinion is shifting its way because two-thirds of those affected by the below-inflation rises are low-paid people in work.

One Tory minister told i: "We have not got the language right at Conservative HQ and the Treasury. Some people who lose their jobs and many people on tax credits are strivers not scroungers. Young people looking hard for their first job are not skivers; there is a danger that we make them feel like parasites, and that we look like the nasty party."

The small print of the Bill, disclosed yesterday, confirmed that the minimum statutory maternity pay will be covered by the benefits cap, adding to criticism that the Government is penalising women. The move would cost 340,000 women £156 each, unless their employers fill the gap.

Mr Duncan Smith hinted that better-off pensioners could be affected by the Government's deficit-reduction plans after the 2015 election.

The Tory MP Martin Vickers said: "I support the Bill but we must not tar everyone with the same brush. Not everyone on benefit is a scrounger."