The public still see the Tories as "negative, self-interested and out of touch," a senior Conservative has warned her colleagues.
Theresa May, the most senior woman in the Shadow Cabinet, warned the party that it had a "real task ahead" to convince the public it was "open minded and tolerant".
The party, she said, was in danger of becoming obsessed with the leadership election, while "missing the point about reform".
In a stark warning, Mrs May, who is seen as a moderniser, said that the Conservatives could find themselves out of power for another 10 years unless they made some serious changes.
"There is a real danger that the party, after our third election defeat, is going to miss the point, is going to fail to learn the lessons from the election, because it is being focused into the personality of the leader," she told the BBC's Politics Show.
The shadow Secretary of State for the Family and for Culture, Media and Sport said the party still had work to do to show that it was in touch with modern Britain.
Mrs May - who shocked members three years ago when she said the Conservatives were seen as "the nasty" party - said yesterday: "I don't think they perceive us as a nasty party now but I do think too often we are characterised as negative, self-interested and out of touch."
Her comments came after a weekend of jockeying for attention among the main contenders for the Tory leadership. David Cameron, the shadow Education Secretary, presented himself as the champion of compassionate Conservatism.
Writing in The Mail on Sunday, he said: "Conservative compassion is based on an understanding that we are all individuals with different needs. It is time for this aspect of Conservatism to come to the fore again."
Liam Fox, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said that he would consider a bid over the summer. He is already assembling a campaign team and told The Sunday Telegraph there must be no "taboo subjects" in an attempt to heal Britain's "broken society".
Writing in today's Independent, Lord Howe of Aberavon, the former Foreign Secretary, said the next Tory leader needed to work "in partnership with the widest possible cross-section of the electorate".
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