One of David Cameron's closest confidants has admitted that the "honeymoon is over" for the new Conservative leader.
Polls have indicated that Mr Cameron's election to the post has not produced a breakthrough in public support, and fears are growing at Conservative headquarters that, instead of an increase, the party could, in fact, lose seats at next month's local elections.
Mr Cameron has also risked a backlash from traditional supporters by not talking about crime, immigration or Europe in his speech to the Conservative spring conference in Manchester. He concentrated instead on the issues of social justice and the environment.
Ed Vaizey, the MP for Wantage, said yesterday: "The honeymoon is over for David Cameron. But I think, in a sense, David Cameron wants it to be over and he recognises it's over."
He said the party had to press on with "root and branch change" to reach out to the millions of voters it has lost. "The message that is coming out of the Manchester conference is again to say to the Tory party: 'Don't just change your leader and then walk away and assume everything is going to come right'," Mr Vaizey said on Sky TV.
Asked about predictions that the party could lose the next election, Oliver Letwin, chairman of the party's policy review, acknowledged: "We know we've a mountain to climb and we have to be realistic about that."
He also defended the party's switch of emphasis since Mr Cameron took over four months ago.
"Of course crime on our streets is a very important issue. But you and I know that these things are not unconnected with issues of social justice," Mr Letwin told BBC'1s Sunday AM programme.
Iain Duncan Smith, the former party leader, warned yesterday that voters - especially in the inner cities - were "still very cynical about what we do".
A poll conducted last month for The Independent put Labour on 37 per cent (up one point since February), the Tories on 35 per cent (down two points) and the Liberal Democrats on 19 per cent (unchanged).Reuse content