Resistance to Iain Duncan Smith's leadership of the Conservative Party hardened at the weekend after suspected leaders of a plot to depose him were publicly threatened with reprisals.
The best news of the week for the Tory leader is a YouGov poll in today's Mail on Sunday that shows Tories gaining significant support for the first time in two years, putting them at 38 per cent, five points ahead of the Government and 12 ahead of the Liberal Democrats.
The poll also suggests they would do worse under any other leader.
But a threat from the Chief Whip, David Maclean, to discipline MPs suspected of plotting against their leader seems to have backfired.
One MP on the "suspect" list said yesterday: "If David Maclean asks to see me, of course I'll go, but he has no business interfering in the constitution of the Conservative Party. If it was considered wrong ever to change the leader, there would not be a procedure for doing so." A former minister said: "It's against the traditions of the Conservative Party and it's just not acceptable that the Chief Whip should proceed in this way."
John Maples, an MP accused of canvassing support for a confidence vote, was named as one of those facing a "career development interview". Mr Maples has denied being involved in a plot. He said the summons was "outrageous".
Mr Duncan Smith's leading opponents have set themselves a fortnight to find 25 MPs prepared to write to Sir Michael Spicer, chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, calling for a vote of confidence. They are sure that if they reach that figure, he will be deposed.
One MP contacted The IoS to say he will be writing to Sir Michael tomorrow. He said: "There are loads of people waiting to be signatory number 25. I'm bored with the speculation about whether we are going to reach that number. If people feel strongly, they should just do it, not wait and see."
But Henry Bellingham, the MP for North West Norfolk, believes Mr Duncan Smith managed to pull himself back from the brink by delivering a fighting speech on Thursday. "In my constituency, the general mood is 'stop squabbling and stop undermining him'. If other MPs are getting the same message it might tip the scales against a challenge," he said.
One former minister said: "It's a pretty awful job. Nobody really wants to do it, unless they are going to be PM, which he is not. [He is] deluding himself that he's going to win. He's in fantasy land." Another senior Conservative claimed there are just four Tory MPs out of 166 who are truly committed to keeping the current leader in office - including IDS himself.
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