David Cameron's attempt to stage a political fightback ahead of next month's local elections suffered a setback yesterday as he was hit by a wave of fresh criticism – much of it from his own party.
As part of a media offensive, following what he admitted had been a "difficult" month for the Government, Mr Cameron insisted his "driving vision" remained intact and he defended his performance in No 10.
But within hours he was being attacked by one of his own MPs for being an "arrogant posh boy" with no desire to understand the lives of ordinary voters and was accused of making misleading comments about government attempts to deport the radical cleric Abu Qatada.
A Conservative-dominated committee of MPs today will add to Mr Cameron's woes with a scathing report that says he is presiding over an administration that lacks a "clear and coherent" approach to governing.
The Public Administration Committee will accuse the Government of driving through "short-term" policies that do not reflect the long-term interests of the nation. They will cite a range of mistakes over economic, defence and energy policy which they say could have "catastrophic" consequences for the country. "We have little confidence that Government policies are informed by a clear, coherent strategic approach, informed by a coherent assessment... of the national interest," they said. "Poor strategic thinking militates against clear presentation, which was evident in the aftermath of the Budget and in response to the possibility of industrial action by tanker drivers."
In another difficult day for Mr Cameron:
* The recently retired Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell attacked ministers for blaming the Civil Service for things going wrong. "The civil service has an annoying habit of pointing out that it's important to stay within the law," he said.
* George Osborne faced a backlash from Tory MPs for his decision to commit £10bn of extra funding to the International Monetary Fund.
* The Conservative backbencher Nadine Dorries accused Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne of being "two arrogant posh boys who show no remorse, no contrition, and no passion to want to understand the lives of others".
* The Government suffered yet another embarrassing defeat in the House of Lords over its legal aid reform Bill.
Government strategists had hoped to turn the corner yesterday after a month of attacks over controversial tax measures in the Budget and the handling of issues such as the planned strike by fuel-tanker drivers and the attempt to deport Qatada.
In two interviews with the BBC, Mr Cameron insisted that while the Government has "difficult weeks or difficult months", his "long-term" mission remains intact. "Everything we are doing is about helping people who work hard and do the right thing and making this country more pro-enterprise, more pro get-up-and-go, more pro-work, more pro-effort," he said.
But in the same interview he appeared to make misleading comments while defending the Home Office's handling of the deportation of Qatada. Mr Cameron told the Today programme that the Home Office was "told throughout" that the European Court of Human Rights' deadline for Qatada to appeal expired on the Monday night.
But he was later forced to back down and admit it was only the Home Office's "assumption" that the deadline expired on Monday – suggesting that the Government had not checked the specific date with the court.
Support for the Tories has plunged by six points in a month, from 39 per cent to 33 per cent, according to a new poll by ICM for The Guardian. Labour has climbed five from 36 per cent to 41 per cent, to claim an eight-point lead. The Liberal Democrats stand on 15 per cent.