Tory hopefuls say party is 'stuck in a cul de sac' and 'defective'

In a broadside at Michael Howard's leadership, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign secretary, accused the party of being "deeply defective" and in an electoral "cul de sac". One of his leadership rivals, a fellow moderniser, David Cameron, warned that the Tories must make "serious changes" to have a chance of beating Labour next time.

In an interview on BBC News 24 yesterday, Mr Cameron, said the party had focused too heavily at the last election on core Tory issues such as immigration and crime, and must broaden its appeal. "We had a bad election result for the third time in a row and we have to make serious changes to make our party more attractive so that we can actually meet the challenges that this country faces," he said.

At times the Conservative Party had paid too much attention to crime and immigration, he said. "We need to talk about quality of life and the environment and public spaces."

But the shadow Education Secretary warned against being too critical of the party's performance. In an apparent criticism of Sir Malcolm, he said there was "a great danger for Conservatives to endlessly trash their own brand".

Sir Malcolm warned inThe Sunday Telegraph that the party must choose a new leader who appeals to Labour and Liberal Democrat voters, and not just Tories. "The fundamental strategy of the past eight years has been insensitive to the public mood. We must not end up in the situation Labour got into in 1992 with Neil Kinnock as leader. They had someone acceptable to the party, but unacceptable to the nation.

"Too many people are talking about who should be Leader of the Opposition. If that is the frame of mind we have, then we will end up with the Leader of the Opposition."