Edgy Tories warn Cameron to step up attack on Clegg

David Cameron

David Cameron was last night warned by his own candidates that he has to sharpen his attacks on Nick Clegg in next week's televised leaders' debate to counter a "yellow surge" after being eclipsed by the Liberal Democrat leader in the first round.

Mr Cameron appeared to pull his punches and now faces a dilemma over whether to mount more aggressive attacks as he reviews his strategy with key advisers this weekend.

Senior Tories denied there were jitters over Mr Cameron's performance, and were delighted that their own research showed he had done well on health and education. However, some were privately disappointed that his showing was not strong enough to prevent Mr Clegg from stealing the limelight. "It was supposed to be about us, not him," said one Tory candidate.

The inquest among some Tories focused on the three-party format. "We should never have allowed Clegg to have an equal footing. That was a big mistake," said one party insider.

Tory officials said that lessons would be learned – a sign that Mr Cameron might become more aggressive in the next two debates. They said there was a delicate balancing act to be struck between "being prime ministerial and landing blows in a way that is not very statesmanlike".

Speaking to reporters on his battlebus as he toured key marginal seats in the North West, north Wales and Wolverhampton, the Tory leader publicly insisted he would not change tactics or "go negative" in the debates. "I do not believe in being negative and trying to pull the others down," he said.

Praising Mr Clegg's performance, he added: "There is no doubt that a 'plague on both your houses' is a good song to sing and he sang it very effectively."

He said that Gordon Brown had been "very negative", did not "have much to say" and had not got "off the ground". It had been "hysterical", he said, that Mr Brown had made continued overtures to Mr Clegg, "but Nick wasn't having any of it".

A "Lib Dem yellow surge" in the south and west on the back of Mr Clegg's success could destroy Tory hopes of gaining 23 Lib Dem seats crucial to their chances of winning an overall majority. Conservative supporters in Prestatyn urged Mr Cameron to step up attacks on Mr Clegg, particularly on his pro-Europe stance, to counter the Liberal Democrat threat.

Mr Cameron said voters needed to recognise that Mr Clegg had no prospect of taking power. One former Tory minister campaigning in the south said: "He does need to be sharper and I'm sure he will be in the next round. The big one is the economic debate in a fortnight. He has to win that."

Mr Cameron managed to avoid being eclipsed – just – for a second time in 24 hours when he shared a platform with Take That star Gary Barlow in front of an audience of excited comprehensive schoolchildren. Asked whether he backed Mr Cameron after joining the Tory leader in launching a new plan for a national "School Stars" competition for budding musicians, Mr Barlow said: "I wouldn't be here if I wasn't.''

Mr Cameron admitted later that he had been nervous ahead of Thursday's debate, adding: "We were all a bit nervous. But I was happy with it. I got across the answers I wanted to."

Former Cabinet minister Lord Tebbit said it was no wonder Mr Cameron "looked a little disgruntled" after the debate because Mr Clegg promised the earth "and got away with it..."

Lord Tebbit said Mr Cameron "scored points" on immigration, but the Tory leader is expected to resist the temptation to raise immigration higher up the agenda to avoid a charge of using the race card, which proved counter-productive for his predecessor, Michael Howard, in the 2005 election.

Mr Cameron went to the marginal constituency of Wolverhampton South West for a Q&A session with the staff at Asda. The Midlands is a key target area for the Tories – they lost this seat by just five per cent in 2005. But local voters had mixed views on both his politics and his performance. Taxi driver Steven Kumar, 32, said he was thinking of switching from Labour to Conservative after seeing him on TV.

"He does know how to talk to people," he said. "He can relate to people much better than Gordon Brown can. As long as he doesn't turn into Mrs Thatcher then he might be all right!''

But Joan Smith, 83, said: "I watched the start of the debate but I turned it off once they started arguing. You can get all of that from soap operas; I thought it was pathetic how much they bickered with each other. I don't trust David Cameron at all... I think they're having that baby for publicity."

The Conservative leader will address a rally today after returning to London.

One down, two to go: In the blue corner

*Strengths to play to

Young family man with the energy and ideas to do the job. Not frightened to take the tough decisions necessary to rebuild the economy. The only person who can stop five more years of Gordon Brown; voting Liberal Democrat will let Labour back in.

*Weaknesses to correct

Has to be more aggressive and land more punches on his rivals. Betrayed signs of nerves and never showed much passion. For a good television performer, was surprisingly wooden.

*Pitfalls

Coming across as a slick salesman without true convictions. Allowing his privileged background to alienate wavering voters who think he has little in common with them.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power