Ancram's attack on Tory policy dismissed as 'a blast from the past'

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Tory in-fighting over the party's direction intensified as modernisers dismissed as a "blast from the past" a former Conservative chairman who criticised David Cameron's leadership.

Michael Ancram, who also served as deputy Tory leader for four years, infuriated Cameron loyalists by protesting that the party's Thatcherite heritage was being "trashed".

His intervention, in which he called for the Conservatives to stake out a more distinctively right-wing agenda, overshadowed the launch of the party's policy proposals for reviving public services.

It also distracted attention from a modest Tory revival in the opinion polls following speeches by Mr Cameron trumpeting the party's policies on crime and immigration.

A spokesman said: "This is just a blast from the past. Just as Britain has changed, the Conservative Party has to change along with it."

Stephen Dorrell, the former cabinet minister who co-chaired the public services review, said the only way for parties to win elections was to reach out of their "comfort zones". He added: "When they are in the centre ground they have some chance of building the coalition that our electoral system demands."

Michael Portillo, the former secretary of state for defence, said Mr Cameron's party critics should "just hold their tongues", especially since the Tories might soon have to fight a general election campaign. He told Sky News: "I was a great admirer of Margaret Thatcher but to invoke Thatcherism now, a phenomenon which is 25 years old, just makes the Tory party look old-fashioned and, of course, divided."

In a 30-page alternative manifesto for the party, Mr Ancram called for the Tories to put fresh emphasis on lower taxation, fighting European integration and championing marriage. He called on Mr Cameron to demonstrate to voters that the party had not lost the values and principles which made up its "timeless" soul.

His comments echoed a wave of internal criticism of the Tory leader over the summer, but were particularly damaging as they came from a party grandee previously renowned for his loyalty.