TORY LEADERSHIP: Why Cameron will come back to face serious trouble this time

camcalm“Calm down, calm down…”

The Tory Right senses that its hour has come

The campaign to hoof David Cameron out of Number Ten is gathering pace. Eight days ago I posted to suggest where all this was leading:

‘Mr Cameron cannot win this one. The MSM titles are a tad short on precisely where this pressure for an early referendum is coming from – perhaps because it’s coming from at least two well-known media owners…..At the weekend, a Conservative source remarked to me that “the Right wants the referendum to turn into a giant vote of no-confidence in Cameron”. I think he’s almost certainly right, and I think it probably would.’

Yesterday, Ben Brogan at the Telegraph wrote this in his regular column:

‘No10 says the party is united on policy, when what its critics allege is that it is divided on Dave. This episode has been about his effectiveness as a leader and his ability to command those below him, and what that means for the party’s prospects in 2015. I still hold that up until a fortnight or so ago Mr Cameron was advancing on vote-winning fronts…..But [when] Cabinet ministers are willing to announce that they won’t defend the Government’s programme, things are more serious than the glib optimism from No10 acknowledges.’

What was a week ago ‘a rebellion on Referendum’ is now ‘a Cabinet crisis’. Dan Hannan – who has a toenail in Camerlot and his heart in Borisshunt Fallongove  – spent most of yesterday frantically tweeting that the ‘split’ was being overplayed. Dan’s big problem (and it will cost him dear one day) is that he has verbal diaorrhea, and very poor judgement about when to take some Imodium. It came across as protesting too much.

The Sarkists meanwhile are jumping on Dave’s head at every opportunity. Looking at the Torygraph website this morning, we have ‘The Prime Minister has appeared to be following his party rather than leading it, and has adopted tactics over the Europe referendum that have verged on the naive’ (Telegraph view), ‘The Tory party’s gone crazy over Europe, and it’s Cameron’s fault’ (Brogan), and ‘Cameron and his party conspire to create a European shambles’ (Iain Martin).

But read carefully between some of the lines, and you can see where that Sarkastic preference lies: whereas we have yet another article on BoJo (‘…it fell to Boris Johnson, writing on these pages yesterday, to make one significant point: that not all of our problems can be laid at Europe’s door’) positioning  him as solid, straightforward, and statesmanlike, Michael Gove got ‘Michael Gove has said he wants to be “the heir to Blair” amid renewed speculation that he could succeed David Cameron as Conservative leader’, adding a damning quote (“If you’re saying I’m the heir to Blair or a disciple of David Blunkett (Labour’s former education secretary) then I plead guilty to both.”) and faint praise (‘Mr Cameron was said to have described himself as “the heir to Blair”…..Mr Gove has repeatedly ruled out standing for the Conservative leadership, insisting that he lacks the essential qualities necessary for the job….Michael Portillo, the former Tory defence secretary, has previously said Mr Gove would be “a serious candidate for the future” leadership of the party.)

Blair, Blunkett, Cameron, Portillo and shrinking violets are all pet hates for the Conservative BARMY* tendency, so I think Mr Gove can consider himself stabbed in the front re that one. Boris is the twins’ man – the Sarkist support for him is more formal than many would care to admit – but that’s fine, because the Education Secretary is a dyed in the wool Newscorper who, despite a mountain range of evidence to the contrary, continues to see Muppet Rudeshock as A Great Man – and the feeling is reciprocated.

What we must all remember of course is that, to date, the No Turning Backers in the Party have been one part piss, one part wind, and one part mouth. The missing element appears to be a spine: they loathe Cameron, emit spittle when using the word Coalition, and abominate the strategic ideas of Oliver Letwin. They did manage a major coup in getting Cameron to sideline the bungling Old Etonian, replacing him with Boris Johnson’s brother, but this was not exactly a direct hit amidships heading down to the munitions hold: it’s going to take more than that to dislodge a Prime Minister….even one as directionally brainless as David Cameron.

One thing above all has changed in recent weeks: the UKip triumph, and what any halfway decent psephologist can discern from it: unless it does a deal with Farage – or gets those votes back sharpish – the Conservative Party cannot win in 2015. Before the local elections, the calculation among the Tory rank and file was that, when push came to shove, not many people would stick a cross next to Ed Miliband in the polling booth. There was a general mood of biding time, waiting for the economy to turn, and then dumping Cameron after the election. I must say it always struck me as a profoundly flawed plan, but the sense one gets now is that the Right really does realise it’s sh*t or bust: the timing has changed, and the urgency has increased.

We have two years to go until the next election – almost to the day. Two years to bed in a new leader and Chancellor, spin some bollocks about signs of recovery, wind the Nation up with a clear policy on Europe, and romp home to victory. There is a sense of ‘now or never’ in the air.

To dump Cameron and go full on ‘EU-out’ as a Party would mean losing LibDem support…and being defeated on a confidence issue. Cleggie doesn’t want to call that (he’s smart enough to know his Party would be annihilated in any ensuing Election) and there’s a lot of legislation at stake for the Tories. Losing half the programme – and either going into a forced election or struggling on as a minority Government – does tend to take the wind out of puffed-up sails. Instinctively, it feels like a risk too far.

But the alternative is, for many of the BARMIES, too ghastly to contemplate. A lame-duck Cameron in 2015 – atop a failing economic policy and divided Party as the eurozone implodes – isn’t a great prospect for even the most visceral Shires sociopath. A split electoral Right producing an emphatic Labour majority would be the ultimate nightmare.

Fortune favours the brave. We are about to see what Borishunt Fallongove is made of.

Later yesterday at The Slog: Gold drops again as oil barons caught fiddling

*BARMY – ‘Barclays and Rupert Murdoch Yes’