Prime Minister David Cameron was on Tuesday forced to offer a grovelling apology in a bid to buy peace with the increasingly belligerent right-wing of his Tory party as the revolt against his leadership intensified with more than 100 rebel MPs, including ministers, voting against a government bill to legalise gay marriages.

It was the second time in less than a week that he faced humiliation at the hands of his own MPs in a Commons vote. Last week, they demonstrated their anger by voting against the Queen’s Speech because it did not contain a Bill which would have enshrined in law Mr. Cameron’s promise to hold an “in-out” referendum in 2017 on Britain’s EU membership.

His apology came after a senior party figure and a close friend of his was reported calling local activists as “mad, swivel-eyed loons”. The remarks, attributed to Tory peer and party fundraiser Lord Andrew Feldman , caused outrage with critics citing them as further evidence of how “out of touch” he was with ordinary voters.

In a “personal message” e-mailed to Tory activists, Mr. Cameron assured them that he would never associate himself with anyone who “sneered” at them. Praising them for their sense of “duty, decency and civic pride”, he said he was proud to lead them.

“I would never have around me those who sneered or thought otherwise. We are a team, from the parish council to the local association to Parliament, and I never forget it,” he said.

The gay marriages legislation survived with the last-minute support of Labour MPs in what the Tory rebels described as a “grubby deal” accusing the Prime Minister of “railroading through” an unpopular measure.

The scale of the Tory revolt fuelled speculation about Mr. Cameron’s future as he struggled to hold the party together amid growing threats from grassroots members to defect to the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) whose policies on Europe, immigration and gay marriages are closer to their own line on these issues.

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