Seat offer gives Boris Johnson boost in push for leadership
MP says he's keeping his 'seat warm' for Johnson as new poll shows Ukip is soaring at expense of Tories
A VETERAN Tory MP has said he is "keeping his seat warm for Boris", raising fresh speculation about a leadership battle between David Cameron and Boris Johnson.
Sir Peter Tapsell's offer to vacate his Lincolnshire seat for the London mayor comes as the PM is put under new pressure by the soaring popularity of Ukip. The party has reached 17 per cent, ahead of the Lib Dems, while the Conservatives trail nine points behind Labour, according to a ComRes survey for the Independent on Sunday.
Tapsell's offer to hand his seat to Johnson is significant because Johnson has vowed to remain mayor until 2016 and can only take part in a Tory leadership contest if an MP offers to give up their seat after the 2015 election. The offer confirms that "an increasing number of Tories believe the mayor is a potential Conservative leader, with the ebullience and popular appeal to win elections", says the Sunday Telegraph. It is "the clearest" offer of its kind made by a Conservative MP so far.
Tapsell, 83, who represents the constituency of Louth and Horncastle, is understood to have made his "frank admission" after Cameron asked him if he would stay on in the Commons until the 2015 election. The PM told Tapsell the party did not want another by-election and the veteran MP replied that he was "keeping his seat warm for Boris".
When questioned over his remarks, Tapsell denied being part of any "Boris camp", but said he thought Johnson would make an "excellent" leader of the Opposition and "perhaps" even a good PM.
But Tapsell, who has a majority of almost 14,000, believes his seat may not be suitable for Johnson because it is too far from London. "The problem is my seat is a long way from the TV studios," he said. "Boris would want to be closer to them."
Up to 25 Tory MPs have indicated that they would be prepared to force a leadership election if Wednesday's Budget or the local elections in May do not improve the party's fortunes substantially.
Meanwhile, the latest ICM poll shows that right-of-centre voters are increasingly receptive to Ukip's message, particularly on issues such as immigration, gay marriage and government spending, says the Telegraph's political editor Patrick Hennessy. Identified by the poll as "Conservative-Ukip switchers", they represent 1 in 10 voters and are "crucial" to Cameron's general election hopes.
The "switchers" rate Ukip's Nigel Farage as a better party leader than the PM by 37 per cent to 32 per cent, the poll says. And they would prefer Johnson to Cameron as a Conservative leader. ·