Conservatives hit back at Tebbit's criticism of Cameron leadership

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Indy Politics

David Cameron's Shadow Cabinet allies have hit back at Norman Tebbit and right-wing critics of the Tory leader on the eve of the Conservative conference.

Lord Tebbit, Lady That-cher's lieutenant and a former chairman of the party, has accused Mr Cameron of losing touch with core Conservative voters by pursuing a reforming agenda.

But yesterday, Chris Grayling, the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, hit back, saying: "People of Norman Tebbit's generation did a great job for the party and the country in their time but the world today is very different. We have to represent the world today. I am sorry he has not fully understood the nature of the challenge we have got and the way we are changing the party for a new generation."

The Tory leader will use his keynote conference speech on Wednesday to tell the party he is ready for an early election, although the prospect has caused jitters in the party.

A senior Tory source said yesterday that if Gordon Brown tried to wreck the conference by calling the election while it was taking place, they would demand equal television coverage under the Representation of the People Act. "That may hamper Gordon Brown," added the source.

George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, will signal tomorrow that the party is planning to mount a fight-back this week by ditching some of the policy ideas which have upset the core Tory vote, including part of the "green" agenda for taxing air travel and car parking at supermarkets.

With Mr Brown this weekend meeting allies over the timing of an election, Mr Cameron and his team are planning to calm Tory nerves with a blizzard of policy announcements for each day of the conference in Blackpool. The Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is expected to deliver a video conference call to the Winter Gardens tomorrow before Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York, speaks.

Senior Tory figures denied that Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne were preparing for a lurch to the right. "There is no change in the strategy," said a spokesman.

On Monday, the party leader and Mr Grayling will use a debate on the "broken society" to set the tone for the election campaign.

Mr Grayling said the Tories were not worried about Mr Brown stealing "Tory clothes" at Labour's conference. There will be attacks on the Government over issues that will appeal to traditional Conservative voters, including the rise in immigration, and gang crime.