Who started Adam Afriyie story? Surely not the Cameron camp?
As four polls cut Labour's lead over Tories to under ten points, the last thing Tories need is a new leader
NOT EVEN the grassroots rebellion over the route of the high speed rail line through bucolic Tory seats can shake David Cameron's popularity with his party now.
Four opinion polls show Labour's lead over the Tories has been cut to below 10 per cent by Dave's EU speech offering his eurosceptic supporters the in/out referendum.
The attack of nerves should be at Labour Party headquarters and the speculation about the leadership should be about Ed Miliband. Instead, Cameron has endured a weekend of bonkers stories about a stalking-horse plot to remove him and replace him with Adam Afriyie – a presentable but previously fairly obscure backbencher who was insultingly dubbed the 'Tory Obama' in The Sun because he has the same skin colour as the US President.
It's so mad, Mrs Mole has started asking: "What the hell is going on?"
The deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph, Ben Brogan, has tweeted this morning that Peter Oborne, the blustering Telegraph commentator, says it is because, "like the interior of Mali, large tranches of the Conservative party have become an ungoverned space".
Nadine Dorries – the Timbuktu of the Tory Party – fanned the flames of insurrection by blabbing on the Sky News' Murnaghan programme: "There are four people who are likely to be the next Conservative leader. I think Adam is probably one of them, Jesse Norman, Boris Johnson or Michael Gove. We will see repeated stories about these people over the next two years."
Mrs Dorries, who is currently suspended from the parliamentary Conservative party after appearing in the reality television programme I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, has effectively given the kiss of death to their personal ambitions to replace Cameron this side of the next general election.
The fact that the same story appeared in three Sunday newspapers – the Mail on Sunday, the Sunday Times, and the Sun on Sunday – smacks of a campaign. It caused such alarm in the Tory high command that Tory chairman Grant Shapps rang Adam Afriyie to make sure he was not running against Cameron – and to privately persuade him to rubbish the reports.
Afriyie duly obliged. "I'll never stand against David Cameron. I am 100 per cent supportive," he said.
The fact is, David Cameron has never been more popular with his party, and the polls suggest he now has a real chance of winning a second term. A poll for Angus Reid/Sunday Express put the Tories on 30 per cent (up three) and Labour on 39 (down three).
A ComRes/Independent on Sunday/Sunday Mirror poll puts the Conservatives on 33 per cent (up five) Labour on 39 (no change) and UKIP down four points on 10 per cent. A third poll for Survation/Mail on Sunday puts the Conservatives on 31 per cent (up two), Labour on 38 (no change) and UKIP on 14 (down two). YouGov in the Sunday Times puts the Conservatives on 35 per cent (up two), Labour on 41 (down two) and UKIP on seven (down one).
YouGov say the changes in the four polls may not be a game-changer, but they are consistent - "so we can be fairly confident that the Conservatives have enjoyed a small boost from the referendum promise."
Yet however grudging YouGov may be, the fact is the speech was a personal coup for Cameron, who recently told the Daily Telegraph he wanted to lead the Tory party through two terms until at least 2020 and now has a chance of doing so.
At Davos last week, Greenpeace activists took a photograph in a pizza restaurant of Cameron, George Osborne, Boris Johnson, Ed Llewellyn (chief of staff), Rupert Harrison (special adviser to Osborne), Kate Fall (the PM's deputy chief of staff) and Craig Oliver (director of communications at No 10). The Greenpeace whinger – who was also eating there – described their mood as "boisterous".
It is just possible they knew what a load of tosh had been fed to the Sunday newspapers because it came from the Cameron camp. That would explain why they were having a laugh.