Half of Tory members oppose the Big Society

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Indy Politics

David Cameron is failing to rally party activists behind his Big Society theme, a survey for The Independent revealed.

In a big setback to the Prime Minister, only 37 per cent of Tory members believe he is right to make the Big Society his flagship while 47 per cent say he is not. The finding will worry Tory MPs who have reservations about Mr Cameron's decision to stick to his pet project, which Labour has attacked as a cover for the Coalition's deep cuts in public spending.

The poll of 1,270 Tory members was conducted by the ConservativeHome website ahead of the party's spring conference in Cardiff this weekend.

It reveals stirrings of discontent in the grassroots about the Coalition and the influence wielded by the Liberal Democrats over Government policies.

Tory members want David Davis, the former shadow Home Secretary and a leading backbench critic of the Government, to be their party chairman. Some 42 per cent would like Mr Davis to regain the post he held in 2001-02, while only 11 per cent believe Baroness Warsi, the co-chairman, is the best person for the job.

While Tory members believe, by a margin of 67 to 25 per cent, that the Coalition is a good thing for the nation, only 44 per cent think it is good for the party and 47 per cent that it is not. Some 58 per cent believe that Mr Cameron is making too many concessions to Nick Clegg's party, while only 33 per cent disagree. Only 40 per cent of members say that the Tory party and its voters are getting a fair deal from the Coalition, while 52 per cent say they are not.

Some 86 per cent of Tory members want Mr Cameron to replace the European Convention on Human Rights with a British Bill of Rights – a move strongly opposed by Mr Clegg – while 9 per cent do not.

Just six per cent of Tory activists want the partnership with the Liberal Democrats to continue after the next general election while the overwhelming majority (90 per cent) do not.

ConservativeHome asked members to rate the performance of Cabinet ministers. They are most satisfied with Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, and George Osborne, the Chancellor, is in second place. Mr Cameron has slipped from first to third since The Independent's last poll in October.

Ms Warsi has fallen from 17th to 27th place, and her net satisfaction rating – the number of members satisfied with her performance minus the number dissatisfied– dropped from plus 42 to minus 13 per cent. Kenneth Clarke, whose policies as Justice Secretary have upset traditionalists, has fallen from 14th to 25th in the league table. The performance of Mr Clegg, in 12th place out of 28, is rated more highly than 13 Tory ministers who attend Cabinet meetings and Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat Chief Treasury Secretary, has moved up from 23rd to 15th place since last October.

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, is regarded as the Cabinet's worst performer, with a net satisfaction of minus 48 per cent.

Ministers highly rated by Tory activists include Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, who retains fourth place and Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, who moves up from seventh to fourth. William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, has slipped from third to sixth place and Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, has fallen from 10th to 15th spot.

The survey did find more support for Mr Cameron's approach to foreign affairs. Two in three party members believe the Prime Minister was right to promote the British arms industry in the Middle East, while 25 per cent disagree. By a narrow margin, 47 to 41 per cent, members believe the UK should be ready to use military force as part of an international intervention to stop bloodshed in nations like Libya.