The Conservatives must break the impression they are "privileged and out of touch" if they are to stand a chance of winning the next general election, former leadership contender David Davis has warned.
After the party suffered heavy losses to the UK Independence Party in the council elections in England and Wales, Mr Davis said David Cameron should stop surrounding himself with fellow Old Etonians and show he understood the concerns of ordinary people.
With the Tories losing 340 councillors and the control of 10 councils, some Tory right-wingers called on the Prime Minister to firm up his commitment to holding a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union to counter the appeal of Ukip. But Mr Davis said the priority for Mr Cameron - who recently appointed Old Etonian Jo Johnson to head the No 10 policy unit - was to reconnect with voters who thought the Conservatives lived in a different world to them.
"The fact is that if we want to win the next election, we have to break this impression of being privileged and out of touch," he said in an article for The Daily Telegraph. "The British public are neither snobs nor inverted snobs, but they do expect the Government to understand their problems and do something about it. That means more straight talking and fewer focus groups; more conventional Tory policies, not because they are Tory, but because they work; less pandering to metropolitan interest groups; and please, please, no more Old Etonian advisers."
Ukip's spectacular advance posed problems for all three big parties. While Labour made gains - picking up 268 councillors and taking control of two councils - analysts said they fell short of the numbers needed to show that Ed Miliband was on course for No 10. For the Liberal Democrats it was another grim set of results with the loss of 110 councillors while crashing to a humiliating seventh place in the South Shields parliamentary by-election, just ahead of the Monster Raving Loony Party.
In contrast a jubilant Nigel Farage said Ukip - which gained 131 councillors - now stood every chance of gaining its first seat in the House of Commons the next time there was a by-election in a marginal constituency. A BBC projection gave Ukip a 23% share of the national vote, just behind the Tories on 25% with Labour ahead on 29% with the Lib Dems trailing in fourth place on 14%.
Mr Cameron pledged to work really hard to win back voters who abandoned the Conservatives for the Ukip, promising action to turn round the economy, cut immigration and sort out the welfare system. Having previously derided Ukip as "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists", the Prime Minister adopted a notably more emollient tone, promising to show "respect" for those who voted for them.
"It is no good insulting a political party that people have chosen to vote for. We need to show respect for people who have taken the choice to support this party and we are going to work really hard to win them back," he said.
Mr Miliband insisted that Labour leader had made "good gains" but acknowledged there was "more work to do". "These elections show many people have lost trust in David Cameron's ability to change Britain. But our task is to win the trust of the people we haven't yet persuaded that Labour can make the difference," he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the Lib Dems' poor showing reflected their journey from "a party of protest to a party of government". "I have always said it is understandable why it is that people might be attracted to the simple answers that the UK Independence Party is offering to deal with this country's complex problems," he said.