By Tim Montgomerie
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Some spectacularly ill-timed press speculation this morning about David Cameron's future as Tory leader. Both the Mail on Sunday and the Sunday Times (for the second week in a row) are puffing up the idea that David Cameron's leadership is in danger. They do so on the morning when Labour's lead has fallen below 10% in four Sunday newspaper opinion polls. You could say five if you count the ICM poll for last week's Guardian. If any leadership should be in trouble it should be Ed Miliband's. For reasons I won't repeat this morning, Labour has significant structural advantages but (i) Ed Miliband's personal unpopularity and (ii) his failure to detoxify his party's spendthrift image mean his party is failing to capitalise on the Coalition's not insignificant weaknesses.
The Mail on Sunday and Sunday Times (£) are suggesting that backbench Tory MP Adam Afriyie is lining up a campaign to challenge for the Tory leadership – most likely after the next election but possibly beforehand. Mr Afriyie – inevitably dubbed the "Tory Obama" – is said to have an eight strong parliamentary campaign team, which includes Cities of London and Westminster MP Mark Field. One hundred Tory MPs are reported to have been contacted to elicit whether they would back an Afriyie candidacy.
In the middle of last summer, following the collapse of the boundary review and growing squabbles inside the Coalition, there was a possibility that Mr Cameron's leadership could be in trouble if he didn't pull his operation and his government together. His speech to Tory Conference in which he set out a widely applauded conservative message began what has been a considerable movement back to Mainstream Conservatism. I listed the other shifts on Monday, including a more balanced Cabinet, the recruitment of Lynton Crosby, the focus on strivers and the decision to target Liberal Democrats in marginal seats. Wednesday's EU speech solidified the movement of Cameron back to a position which should be able to enjoy the command and loyalty of most of his party. Forty to fifty of his backbenchers will remain irreconcilable regardless of what he now does but the mass middle of the party is pacified, if not overjoyed.
Being competitive in the polls is not, of course, enough to win a general election. The EU speech has begun to reunite the centre right, Eurosceptic vote. We need other more radical changes to become a majority party. Starting tomorrow on ConHome we'll be looking at what might be called "Conservatism for the Little Guy". Each day we'll be looking at ideas from Laura Sandys, Robert Halfon, Lord Baker, Nick Boles, Harriett Baldwin and Liz Truss which can build a conservatism that reaches deeply into Labour territory.