A move against Theresa May led by someone with their career in front of them might be seen as a bold attempt to shake the Cabinet into action for the good of the party. But a plot led by Grant Shapps, party chairman under David Cameron, is a rather different proposition. He doesn’t seem to have much of a strategy – it looks like he’s readying the freezer bags and coming after the PM, as per George Osborne’s instructions. He blames the Tory whips for leaking his name to the press, and says it will only accelerate things. I’m not so sure.
Shapps claims that about 30 MPs are behind him, although we don’t have names other than Ed ‘lazy’ Vaizey, who recently said he was turning against May in disgust that the Tory party conference was ‘a great opportunity to reboot the party’ that was not taken up. (He didn’t bother to attend.) We can assume Anna Soubry is behind Shapps, and I’d be surprised if Nicky Morgan isn’t one of the five former Cabinet members whose signatures he claims to have.
So who else will rally to the Shapps and Vaizey banner? They need some non-has-been MPs if this putsch is going to stand any chance of success. As Margot James has said, this looks more like a move of selfish revenge rather than an attempt to save the party. Jokes are already circulating about Shapps using some of his various alter-egos to make up the 30 names.
As I say in my Daily Telegraph column, the Cabinet have quite carefully considered their options here. Almost none of them are keen on Theresa May but their consensus is that to spend several weeks in a leadership election, at such a crucial time in Brexit talks, would be a self-indulgence for which the Tories would never be forgiven. But the thing about the Brexit debate is that it has created some Tory MPs who would quite happily bring the house down as long as it has the Brexiteers in it. It’s easy to see the case for Theresa May going, less easy to see how she is replaced without the Tories killing off what chance they have of winning the next general election. If Shapps does get more names, does he have a plan about what to do next – and how to do it without inflicting an even deeper wound on the party? Or does he particularly care? That’s what I suspect many backbenchers will be asking themselves before deciding whether to join what does looks, at present, like a freezer bag coup.