10 Sep 2012

Tory plotting goes beyond Bob Stewart story

A few people have asked if the Bob Stewart “stalking horse” challenge mentioned in the Mail on Sunday and Sun on Sunday yesterday was the conspiracy I was talking about in my blog on Thursday. To which the answer is “no.”

The approach to MP Bob Stewart was made by two MPs before the summer recess. As Tim Bale points out in The Guardian there is no real logic to asking someone to be a “stalking horse” under the current leadership rules. I’m not sure who made the approach to Bob Stewart and whether there’s an overlap with some of the people I’ve been chatting to.

Anyway, the grouping I am talking about is quite a bit bigger than two people. It has met a handful of times in the office of a Tory former minister and privy councillor. I believe it’s most recent meeting was this month. It has focused on one of its group being a “challenger” to David Cameron. That individual is more prominent than Bob Stewart in Tory backbench circles and is someone who would know their way round the party rules very well.

Members of the cabal talk of maybe running the candidate in May next year after, what one predicted, were bound to be dreadful results at the Corby by-election and the local elections in May 2013. I mentioned before the caveat that the conspirators I spoke to acknowledge that their plans could founder if the economy revived. I also said that they were, as one said, just beginning to move from “contingency to challenge” – ie, they have started to move in their discussions from thinking who they’d rally round if David Cameron fell under a bus to beginning to think of hiring a bus driver.

This isn’t a full blown plot just yet. But if Andrew Mitchell, the new chief whip, had been listening at the door he might have thought it pretty treasonable. And whilst he’d have been unsurprised by some of the participants I’m guessing he’d have been a bit shocked by one of them.

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