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Sunday 27 January 2013

Tory Leadership Challenge – Or Maybe Not

There’s going to be a challenge to Young Dave’s leadership of the Tory Party. Or perhaps there isn’t. And there’s a Barack Obama connection. Or maybe that was just dreamed up in a newsroom somewhere (like the Mail On Sunday, says he just grabbing a name from the air, as you do). There have been a lot of names cast round recently as challengers, so who’s the latest?

Well, today’s name in the frame is Adam Afriyie, who represents Windsor – with a 15,000 majority, as safe a seat as they come – and who grew up on a council estate in south west London. He made his money from an IT services company. Afriyie does not claim travelling expenses, and nor does he claim a second home allowance (and quite rightly in the latter case, given Windsor’s closeness to central London).

He has been an MP since 2005, but Afriyie has no ministerial experience, and unlike Cameron, no background working for the leadership, or running and coordinating national election campaigns. The story in the MoS was given short shrift by Stourbridge MP Margot James on The Andy Marr Show (tm) this morning, which may be significant given her role within the party.

That the Murdoch Sun – at present tacking towards occasional London Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson – decided to effectively pull their version of the story about Afriyie’s supposed leadership challenge, concluding that Young Dave’s jolly good speech had shot the challenger fox, is not a good sign. And the reaction of some pundits has been derisory.

The Sunday Mirror’s Vincent Moss was dismissive: “Next week, someone will tip Peter Bone and (Baroness) Mrs Bone on a ‘dream ticket’”. Bone is the epitome of the eternal back bencher, and his love of quoting his wife always likely to raise a smile at Westminster. And worse was to come from those working on the sister paper to the one that broke the story.

James Chapman, the Daily Mail’s political editor, feigned crying with laughter at the news of Adam Afriyie’s challenge. He remained unpersuaded, despite the Twitter reaction. His deputy Tim Shipman was amused by the whole exercise, making the telling comment that it was an “Interesting insight into a certain strain of backbench thinking”. So that’s another shake of the head, then.

And that is the outlook from the paper whose hacks and pundits would be expected to take the lead from the Sunday title and run with it. What the Adam Afriyie story shows is that there are a number of Ron Hopefuls on the Tory back benches who are prepared to project their own leadership wish list onto whoever may be prepared to have their name floated around the tea room.

It’s not called the “Westminster Bubble” for nothing.

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