Senior Conservatives attempted to soothe the increasingly febrile mood in the party's ranks yesterday after David Cameron was accused of failing to extend the party's appeal beyond a metropolitan elite.
Mr Cameron faces the worst crisis of his 19-month leadership amid growing alarm over the Tories' slide in the opinion polls triggered by Gordon Brown's arrival in Downing Street.
After reports of dissent among the Tory leader's inner circle, William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, and David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, appealed for calm and made clear they backed his determination to focus on the political centre ground.
But Mr Cameron's woes were heightened when Graham Brady, who quit the Tory front bench during the grammar schools row, delivered a withering assessment of his narrow electoral appeal.
Mr Brady protested that the changes under Mr Cameron had been "better at reaching out to a more small 'l' liberal, metropolitan mindset".
But he added: "[They] have not been making the same impact further away from L ondon - in the North, the Midlands, in places which really are an absolutely key electoral battlefield if we're going to win a general election. I think some of it is about the issues that David Cameron has chosen to focus more on, and some of it is about just tone."
Mr Brady, the MP for Altrincham and Sale West, told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend that the party quickly needed to get the balance right between the messages it sent to different groups of voters.
But Mr Hague insisted that Mr Cameron had done "wonders" for the Tories in a short period and dismissed his critics as a tiny minority.
"David Cameron has a very broad national appeal ... I don't think it is an appeal that is confined to the metropolitan areas. That is just not the evidence," he told BBC News 24's Sunday. Mr Hague said the party had made its biggest advance in the north of England for years in the local elections in May. He said: "I don't buy this argument that Conservatives can only make progress in certain parts of the country. …