David Cameron has hit a "glass ceiling" in support and needs to do more to convince liberal voters to back his rebranded Tory party, a senior member of his team has admitted.
Ken Clarke, the shadow Business Secretary, said securing a clear majority would be a "tall order" for his party as the polls continued to close. "So many seats have to change hands," he said. "We have got to get through the glass ceiling by winning over more liberals."
He said the expenses scandal had left people deeply cynical about the pledges made by politicians, making it difficult for Mr Cameron to create the wave of enthusiasm for change that delivered Labour a landslide victory in 1997.
"I don't think the public are prepared to have heroes again and it's difficult to enthuse people," he told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show. However, he said he would battle to push his party's support above 40 per cent in the polls, the figure seen as a crucial marker in delivering the Tories an overall majority. "I want to see a Government with a strong working majority," he said, but added it "was not a crisis" that Labour had performed well in recent polls.
Mr Clarke also moved to shore up the position of George Osborne after Mr Cameron said he would sack the shadow Chancellor if needed. Asked how he would respond if offered the job of Chancellor, Mr Clarke said: "I'd say, 'Have you slightly lost your marbles? What's wrong with George?' I think he is quite obviously going to appoint George Osborne as Chancellor."
He refused to rule out future tax rises from a Tory government, despite an apparent pledge by Mr Osborne yesterday to lower the new 50 per cent rate of income tax for high earners. Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, also refused to rule out tax hikes in this month's Budget, despite assurances from the Treasury chief secretary, Liam Byrne, that no further rises would be needed to deliver Labour's plan of halving Britain's budget deficit over four years.