By Tim Montgomerie
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This morning's Times (£) reports that the No Turning Back Group of Tory MPs recently met and discussed the prospect of finding a way of bringing the Coalition to an end and some members even raised the possibility of unseating David Cameron. The Times' story comes at a time when there is frenzied speculation about Theresa May's ambitions. The Mail pours a little cold water on the idea that she might be a near time challenger for the Tory leadership but it also presents "Britain's Mrs Merkel" (© ConHome) as the "Stop Boris" candidate at some point after the next election. In The Telegraph yesterday Benedict Brogan even suggested that Mrs May and Philip Hammond were mounting some sort of joint operation. He talked of Mrs May as a future leader with Mr Hammond as her Chancellor. That suggestion followed Paul Goodman's blog in which he talked about Hammond, May and Grayling all positioning for the leadership race to come.
What should we make of all of this? I offer three observations:
- The Conservative Party is certainly a very unhappy animal. It's unhappy with the state of the economy and the Coalition's economic policy. It hates being in Coalition with the Liberal Democrats. It doesn't much like David Cameron and senses Cameron doesn't much like it. It thinks Cameron's lasting legacy will be a deep division on the Right of British politics. It doesn't think Cameron can win the next election. It really is thoroughly miserable*.
- A change of Tory leader would be very silly. Despite some significant faults Cameron remains much more credibly Prime Ministerial than Ed Miliband or, indeed, nearly every other Tory. Because there's no obvious successor a leadership election could be protracted and messy. The public would watch the Conservative Party arguing with itself at a time of grave economic difficulty and it would be disgusted. A leadership election might even bring the Coalition down as candidates vied with each other to resist or reject key components of the Coalition Agreement. Only one candidate could conceivably make a real difference to Tory prospects and that's Boris Johnson but he's not in parliament.
- The party needs to stop the leadership chatter and maximise its chances at the next election. Voters hate disunited parties and the Conservative Party is looking increasingly divided. It is looking like it is obsessed with its own electoral prospects rather than the good of the country. I don't think Cameron will win the next election but it's far from impossible (here's why). At Saturday's Victory 2015 Conference we'll be examining the kind of Conservative message, machine and manifesto that might conceivably deliver a majority. Throughout the coming week we'll be publishing the papers and research that are launched at that Conference.
* ConHome polling on Saturday will confirm the extent of this.