A curious – and possibly ominous – element of the general election campaign has been the near complete silence of the Tory right.
One senior Tory said the lack even of coded warnings is not down to a newfound love for the prime minister and his inner circle.
The Tory said: “Everyone who hates David Cameron, mostly on the hard right, have just taken a self-denying ordinance that they are not going to say anything until after 10pm on Thursday 7 May. They don’t want to be blamed.”
Another senior figure said: “There is what the late Alan Clark called the stupid right and the clever right. The stupid right were still plotting last year to have a coup. The clever right said: it is too late now and if any of us are seen plotting, we will be crucified by colleagues in marginal seats.”
Behind the scenes, however, plans are now being laid for a move against Cameron if he fails to secure a decisive lead over Ed Miliband.
Opinion polls suggest Labour and the Tories are largely tied, though there are tentative signs that the Conservatives may be inching ahead.
The first significant moment will come on Friday, the day after the election, when the members of the executive of the 1922 committee of Tory MPs hold a telephone conference to discuss tactics.
All Tory MPs, including those elected for the first time on Thursday, have been invited to a full meeting of the 1922 committee on Monday 11 May.
Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 committee, has won an assurance from Cameron that there will be no repeat of his tactics in 2010 when the coalition agreement was presented as a fait accompli.
Cameron has told Brady that the 1922 committee will be able to approve any coalition agreement, although it is not clear if this will be by secret ballot.
If Cameron has achieved a decisive lead over Labour, and has secured what is described as a “strong foothold” in No 10, then he will survive even if he fails to reach the magic number of 326 seats required for an overall majority.
The senior Tory said: “It is completely binary. If, by whatever means, he does it – he is still walking in and out of No 10 – then he is still leader. The moment it becomes clear that that is not going to happen, he ceases to be leader.”
If the Tories have lost a significant number of seats – about 30, to take their numbers down to 276 – then Cameron’s position may become complicated at the 1922 meeting on Monday. Cameron may try to hold on.
But one idea doing the rounds is that some on the right might try to install Boris Johnson as Tory leader before a second election in October. In the meantime, Cameron would remain as a caretaker prime minister.
One Tory was dismissive of this idea. “The idea that you get a coronation of Boris is daft. The public would not accept the Tory party leaving David Cameron as prime minister while we sort ourselves out for six months.”
Cameron will also, according to senior Tories, have an important card. He will be able to tell the right that if they force him out, he might have to recommend to the Queen that she should call on Miliband to form a government.
Amid the speculation about the future, there was one positive thought being voiced over the weekend by some members of the right. They have been impressed by the more passionate tone of Cameron’s campaigning.
“I can’t fault his performance over the last four or five days – I just wish he had done it a little earlier,” one Tory said.
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