Right-wing anger as Cameron denies he is 'betraying' party principles

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David Cameron is under mounting criticism from right-wing Tories who accuse him of abandoning the party's traditional principles and policies.

The Tory leader vowed not to repeat the mistake of recent Tory leaders by lurching to the right when he was under pressure, and said that his party would continue to occupy the political centre ground. He denied the charge of "betrayal" and accused his internal critics of "one- dimensional thinking". Mr Cameron's strategy has provoked a right-wing backlash at the private weekly meetings of Tory MPs, who are furious that he has downgraded tax cuts, and dumped policies such as setting up more grammar schools and subsidising patients opting for private health treatment.

Lord Tebbit, the former party chairman, yesterday voiced concerns shared by several Tory MPs. Although they are not going public yet, they have warned party whips that Mr Cameron will face a battle over the programme to emerge from his wholesale review of policies.

An alternative policy agenda will be drawn up by the right-wing Cornerstone group. One right-wing MP said: "There is a lot of concern. Our public silence should not be misinterpreted. He is still in his honeymoon phase and it's not the right time to speak out. But if he thinks we are going to lie down and take it, he is very wrong."

Lord Tebbit, who will question the Cameron strategy in a speech to the Bow Group today, said: "The centre ground has always been a morass. If all the parties mill around in the centre ground and the elector feels that it doesn't matter which one he votes for, it won't make a lot of difference, he will probably stay at home.

"We have now got about 18 million people who don't vote and that is close to the total number who vote Conservative and Labour together. That is dangerous. Mucking around in the middle ground, you might get one million votes one way or another, but you won't bring those people back into the democratic process."

Cameron allies believe the right-wing sniping may help to define the Tories in the voters' eyes, in the way that Tony Blair's battles with his party shaped New Labour. In a speech yesterday, Mr Cameron insisted he was right to embrace a "new politics" and accept that New Labour was closer to the Conservatives. He told the Demos think-tank that the Tories needed to reject the temptation of "easy answers based on one-dimensional thinking" such as grammar schools, tax cuts and more police on the beat. "Change is not a betrayal. It is a recognition and a fulfilment. It is a recognition that the challenges faced by Britain today are not the challenges of the 1970s," he said.