The camp supporting backbench Tory MP Adam Afriyie in a possible leadership bid have been busy, managing to get whispers of their planned coup into three Sunday newspapers (the Sun on Sunday, The Sunday Times, and the Mail on Sunday). Whether or not Afriyie is a popular backbencher who managed to soothe colleagues over toasted teacakes in the Pugin room, and whether or not he’s the ideal person to lead the Tory party after Cameron, the timing for the Windsor MP of the plot appearing in print couldn’t be worse.
This time last week, it wasn’t difficult to find a clutch of MPs who would gloomily mourn the direction their party was going in. There are still plenty of issues to upset them – the legislation for same-sex marriage was published this week and returns to the Commons for second reading on 5 February – but the EU speech has had a powerful effect on the backbench. It isn’t just that Peter Bone and his wife are singing with joy at the In/Out referendum pledge, but that those who have made no attempt in the past to hide their dislike of the Prime Minister now feel he’s finally given them something they want. One backbencher suggested to me last week that the EU speech wouldn’t just keep Cameron safe until 2015, it would give local parties some security over other issues, too.
Whether that is true or not, with many local parties still in uproar over gay marriage, and some threatening their MPs with deselection if they vote for the legislation, the mood in the Conservative party is currently pro-Cameron and anti-plot. Craig Woodhouse’s report in the Sun on Sunday says the Afriyie plotters have put their machinations on hold following the speech. That was a wise choice, but being named as the stalking horse when the Prime Minister has managed to curry such good feeling in his party will mean Afriyie will have to keep his head down for quite a while if he still wants to be in with a realistic shot at the leadership in the future.
P.S. As for where the smart money is on the next Tory leader, remember Bruce Anderson, who predicted David Cameron’s rise, named Jesse Norman as a member to watch in his recent Spectator diary.