Will David Cameron face a confidence vote? It's on the cards
Tory backbenchers are seething over 'Swivelgate' and yesterday's gay marriage plot with Ed Miliband
DAVID CAMERON could face a vote of confidence in his leadership as a result of the growing rift with his angry backbenchers over 'Swivelgate' and his decision to steamroller the Gay Marriage Bill through the Commons – not to mention his ambivalent attitude to his MPs' demands for legislation guaranteeing an in-out referendum on Europe.
Under Tory rules, Graham Brady, chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 committee, has to call a confidence vote if he receives 46 letters demanding one. He has already received a handful of letters from Tory MPs in recent months - and, in the current toxic atmosphere, there's intense speculation among Tory MPs those requests could soon reach the tipping point.
Nick Robinson, the BBC's political editor, said on Radio 4's Today programme this morning that some of it was wishful thinking among Tory MPs. But he added: "There are dozens of Tory MPs who wish Mr Cameron out of Number Ten. They don't like him being there and they don't think the relationship can be repaired."
It is possible that Cameron would draw strength from winning a no-confidence vote, as John Major did in the 1990s. But Nick Watt of The Guardian reports one senior Tory figure telling him: "This is worse than John Major. There was quite a lot of sympathy for him because of the Maastricht rebels. He also listened, though he probably listened too much. With Cameron it feels like this could be terminal – and will be so before the election."
Backbenchers are hopping mad with Cameron this morning for plotting with Labour leader Ed Miliband to crush yesterday's rebel Tory amendment to the Gay Marriage Bill.
The amendment sought to extend gay rights in civil partnerships - including pension rights - to heterosexuals. Because the Treasury feared it could cost £4bn, Cameron looked as if he had no option but to ditch the legislation altogether (to the delight of many Tories).
Instead, Cameron hatched a plan with Miliband to table their own amendment promising a review, without any firm commitment. Culture Secretary Maria Miller, in charge of the bill, was challenged during her wind-up speech by Tim Loughton, the leading Tory rebel, to give a guarantee the review would be completed before the bill went through the Lords. She refused to do so. Loughton accused Cameron of doing a "grubby deal" with Miliband. He and like-minded Tory MPs are seething.
And their anger has not been assuaged by the lovey-dovey email which Cameron sent to Tory party members last night assuring them he would never allow his team to "sneer" at them – a reference, needless to say, to the allegation that one of his pals had described eurosceptic Tory activists as "mad, swivel-eyed loons".
Cameron's email has failed to cut any ice with those grassroots activists and MPs who feel that, whether Lord Feldman said it or didn't say it (he denies it vehemently), the phrase reflects exactly how they are viewed by the metropolitan 'Cameroons' in Downing Street.
A leading Tory critic, Brian Binley, the MP for Northampton South, said on the Today programme there was a "growing gap" between the party and its leader.
"My own association is quite angry with the reported comments," Binley said. "Clearly something was said. We have to have more control of the coterie around the leadership when they talk to the press. I am not asking David Cameron to stand on his head... What we want is for him to stop following his own conscience on occasions and listen more to the party."
Fat chance. Even the Mole is becoming bored with the family feud inside the Tory party. Bring on the confidence vote and clear the air.