Conservative backbenchers increased the pressure on David Cameron to change course and offer a "mainstream" alternative, after the party slumped to a humiliating third place in the Eastleigh by-election.
The Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson told The Independent on Sunday: "The pressure is now on David Cameron and George Osborne to outline a strong mainstream Conservative message, and no more gesture politics aimed at people who will never vote for us."
The Tory backbencher Colonel Bob Stewart said there was dismay among the rank-and-file about the direction the party was taking. "We have failed to get policies that appeal. We have upset many of our key supporters by the stupidity and the irrelevance of the Equal Marriage Act," he said. "This is a wake-up call to the Conservative Party."
The Tory backbencher Bernard Jenkin dismissed the suggestion that Mr Cameron could face a serious leadership challenge. "What this by-election shows is there is no great pile of voters in the middle to be harvested cynically by politicians. People are looking for politicians to tell the truth," he said.