The Conservative Party needs more people in it who "sound normal" to get its message across to working-class voters struggling to make ends meet, its backbenchers have said.
Robert Halfon, a member of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, urged ministers to drop their aggressive language about unions and pleaded for a cut in fuel duty to help ordinary families "crushed" by soaring petrol prices.
It echoes fears among party loyalists that the Tories are increasingly portrayed as defending the better-off.
It will carry added weight as his constituency of Harlow, Essex, has alternated between Tory and Labour control since the Seventies and is home to the sort of skilled workers who supported Margaret Thatcher in their millions.
Mr Halfon said Labour was making a "huge mistake" of playing the class card but conceded the Tories needed to give high-profile roles to more MPs from working-class backgrounds.
He cited the example of Esther McVey, the Liverpudlian ex-TV presenter who is Tory MP for Wirral West.
Mr Halfon said: "I'd love more Esther McVeys, people like that who are very clever but sound normal. They are steeped in street fighting." Eric Ollerenshaw, the Lancaster Tory MP, last month complained that voters in northern England saw the party leadership as "southern, posh white men" who are not "one of us".
Mr Halfon said the Tories found it difficult to convey the appeal of policies -- such as raising income tax thresholds -- designed to help "hardworking people, strugglers or strivers".
He protested: "We have a series of clothes pegs without a washing-line linking them together. We don't provide a narrative." They needed to abandon the "nasty" tone they often used to describe unions and offer free membership to Tory-backing members, he suggested.
"Millions of union members vote Tory and the language we are giving out is that we hate trade unionism. We don't make a distinction between hard-line trade union leaders, whom I oppose, and union members." (© Independent News Service)