If you’re a Sunday Times reader, you surely won’t miss that this is Tim Shipman’s first week as its political editor. The paper is stuffed out with stories from his keyboard – and plenty of good ‘uns. From this one (£) about Tory disquiet at UKIP’s poll ratings to this one (£) about Boris pledging not to take a Cabinet position whilst he remains Mayor of London.
But the one that really stands out is Shipman’s extended tale of tale of backbench plotting against David Cameron (£), and why it’s sinking into dormancy. Seems that the plotters have realised that, with the economic recovery hastening and the general election just a year away, deposing their leader has become an implausible objective. As Shipman writes:
“…the Thatcherite No Turning Back group and the socially conservative Cornerstone group dined together in February with a new goal. Now that ousting Cameron was no longer in prospect, they were scheming to make him the leader they want him to be….
Senior figures such as Bernard Jenkin, Gerald Howarth and John Redwood are biting their tongues to avoid appearing disloyal during an election campaign. But the No Turning Back-Cornerstone table talk is about how to force Cameron to offer more red meat on Brussels.”
Assuming that this isn’t some grand bluff on the part of the plotters, it’s good news for Cameron. It suggests, as do my conversations, that a poor – likely, third-placed – finish in the European elections isn’t going to set off a particularly nasty, internecine scrap. UKIP’s strength has already been factored into the political equations.
But it’s worth noting that this amnesty comes with conditions attached:
“‘Cameron is seated on a stool with four legs,’ said this ally of Adam Afriyie, the backbencher who was accused last year of plotting against the prime minister.
‘He needs to keep the party above 30% in the polls. He needs to lead Ed Miliband on the question of who would make the best prime minister. He needs us to stay ahead on the economy and he needs to personally poll better than the party.’”
Of course, as the article notes, Cameron is currently passing all of those tests. But there’s always the possibility that he could begin to fail them – and others. Earlier today, Paul mentioned the grim prospect of a Yes vote in Scotland. Were that to happen, the plotters could reach for the knife drawer once again.
Of course, it’s always the case that party leaders face conditions for holding on to their position, even it’s simply winning the next election. But it’s generally preferable, from Downing Street’s perspective, for those conditions to go unspoken – rather than being relayed to the papers by allies of Adam Afriyie.