A former Conservative chief whip launched a brutal attack on David Cameron's leadership qualities yesterday as the recriminations intensified over the party's dismal local council election results.
Rebellious backbenchers queued up to demand a shift to the right – with one even forecasting that the Prime Minister could be ousted by Christmas unless he pursued a more conservative agenda.
The strongest language was used by the maverick MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, Nadine Dorries, who warned that MPs could trigger a leadership challenge unless Mr Cameron and the Chancellor, George Osborne, "look at what people are asking for and provide them with that".
However, the most damning intervention came from Lord (Richard) Ryder of Wensum, who suggested Mr Cameron's leadership could be vulnerable unless he got a grip on his government. He said Mr Cameron should worry less about the 24-hour news agenda and "pointless gimmicks" and instead concentrate on developing a "strategy and vision". Lord Ryder, who served as chief whip for five years under John Major, urged the Prime Minister to assert his authority.
He told Radio 4's The World This Weekend: "He seems to lack coherence so nobody knows what he stands for, what his beliefs are, what his convictions are. They want to know more about him, they want to know where he really wants to take the country. He is still very much the master of his own destiny, and I am very pleased he still is, but he won't be the master of his own destiny for very much longer unless he really does paint the big picture.
"So far, we don't have that tapestry, that picture at the moment. I feel sure that unless Mr Cameron takes a grip of the substance of government, rather than the presentation of 24-hour news, then he could be at risk."
The MP for Northampton South, Brian Binley, said the election results were a "major setback" for the party and Mr Cameron should "wake up and smell the coffee".
Bob Stewart, the MP for Beckenham, called for some "sanity" in the forthcoming Queen's Speech, while the former minister Tim Yeo said it was "not too late" to push Lords reform to the "bottom of the queue".