UK Independence Party (Ukip) leader Nigel Farage today moved to exploit unrest within the Conservative ranks, urging discontented Tories to defect to his party.
Ukip used a full-page advertisement in The Daily Telegraph to accuse the Conservative leadership of having betrayed the trust of its natural supporters.
In an open letter to Conservatives, Mr Farage described the reported comment of a senior Tory figure deriding activists as "mad, swivel-eyed loons" as "the ultimate insult".
"Only an administration run by a bunch of college kids, none of whom have ever had a proper job in their lives, could so arrogantly write off their own supporters," he said.
"Conservatives are used to a party that is patriotic, supports business and believes in aspiration. Today they are led by people obsessed with farms and introducing gay marriage and happy to open the door to 29 million Romanians and Bulgarians from January 1 next year.
"If you are a Conservative who supports the Ukip position that we should be an independent, self-governing nation, then your party now treats you with contempt."
Mr Farage's intervention coincides with the return to the Commons of the Government's bill to legalise gay marriage - a major source of discontent among traditionalist Tories, who believe it encapsulates the way the leadership has lost touch with ordinary, grass roots supporters.