Stop undermining Cameron… warns Major

Conservatives need to stop hitting out at the party leadership, Sir John Major has warned – in a speech in which he also criticised the privileged elites who rule Britain.

David Cameron's Eton background did not stop the former Tory prime minister lamenting the dominance of the well-off at the top of British society.

He told South Norfolk Conservative Association's annual dinner Labour was responsible for a "collapse in social mobility" but his remarks drew attention to the backgrounds of those leading the Tories.

"In every single sphere of British influence, the upper echelons of power in 2013 are held overwhelmingly by the privately educated or the affluent middle class," Major pointed out, in remarks quoted by the Telegraph newspaper.

"To me from my background, I find that truly shocking."

It follows his controversial intervention in the energy bills debate last month, when he suggested the Tories should respond to Ed Miliband's price freeze promise by imposing a windfall tax on the 'Big Six' energy companies.

He argued Britain needed an education system which would "help children out of the circumstances in which they were born, not lock them into the circumstances in which they were born".

Major added: "We need them to fly as high as their luck, their ability and their sheer hard graft can actually take them. And it isn't going to happen magically."

Britain's social mobility levels are among the lowest in Europe and critics say the politics of austerity is making the problem worse.

"John Major is telling people what they already knew: David Cameron's is an out-of-touch government that is staggeringly complacent on the one million young people who are unemployed," shadow schools minister Kevin Brennan commented.

"The next generation are being locked out of opportunity, blighted by Cameron’s cost of living crisis."

Major said he was sympathetic with the views of Conservatives who felt troubled by social change that was leading to reforms like the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

He insisted traditional Tories may be "unsettled" by "these bewildering social changes" but made clear he backed the prime minister's approach because he appreciated "David Cameron and his colleagues have no choice but to deal with this new world".

Major said he was confident the Conservatives could win the next general election – despite polling experts warning the Tories need a lead of nearly ten per cent in order to stand a chance of an overall majority.

"If members of our party wish to criticise the government that it is fine. It is their right and it is often productive to do so," he said.

"Government should have the benefit of alternative views, but let’s do it in private.

"Public criticism is destructive. Take it from me. Political parties who are divided and torn simply do not win general elections.

"Can we win this election? I am sure that we can but only if we pull together."