Davis urged to quit if he finishes a poor second

Some allies of Mr Davis suggested he could withdraw from the scheduled run-off among the Tories' 300,000 members if Mr Cameron wins a big majority among the party's 198 MPs. Under the party's rules, the MPs are due to choose a shortlist of two names, with the result of the members' ballot announced on 6 December.

If Mr Davis stood aside, Mr Cameron would be crowned party leader tomorrow without a contest - as Michael Howard was two years ago when the party dumped Iain Duncan Smith. The coronation would cap a spectacular rise by the 39-year-old shadow Education Secretary, who three weeks ago was an outsider in the Tory leadership stakes.

The Davis camp insisted that the shadow Home Secretary intends to fight on in a members' ballot. But one ally told The Independent: "If Cameron gets 60 per cent of the MPs, there is no way the members would overturn that. There wouldn't be any point in kicking lumps out of ourselves for two months, when we could be kicking the Government."

Mr Davis is locked in a tough fight with Liam Fox, the shadow Foreign Secretary, for second place behind Mr Cameron in today's vote. Although Mr Davis topped the poll in the first round on Tuesday, Mr Cameron's bandwagon continued to roll yesterday as he gained another 11 recruits, and he looks certain to come first today.

A spokesman for Mr Davis denied he would withdraw, saying: "He is fighting for every vote, confident of going into the next round, and he intends to take the fight to the country from Friday."

The Davis camp accused the Fox campaign of spreading black propaganda. One aide insisted: "They are trying all sorts of dirty tricks. There is no way that David is going to pull out. The party would feel cheated, and he would be pretty foolish to fall for that."

There was no sign of huge defections from Mr Davis to Dr Fox, who trailed the shadow Home Secretary by 20 votes in the first round.

Davis allies admitted they were down in the dumps after losing five votes on Tuesday. "There were lots of people running around like decapitated chickens, but the mood has stabilised," said one. "The important thing is, our support has not dissolved. We've lost one I know about, but there's been very little movement."

The Fox campaign was confident, however, that it was gaining enough support "below the radar" to push Mr Davis into third and win a place in a shootout with Mr Cameron. Fox aides said he would not stand aside to allow Mr Cameron to be acclaimed as party leader because he would have the momentum to beat him in the members' ballot.

Dr Fox said: "It would be unthinkable if our members were denied their say in the leadership election. Those who favour such an approach demonstrate an astonishing arrogance. I will do all I can to defend our members' participation in the ballot."

The shadow Foreign Secretary received a boost when he won the backing of Ann Widdecombe, the outspoken former home office minister, who supported Kenneth Clarke in the first round in which he was eliminated. But it was Mr Cameron who looked set to pick up most of the 38 MPs who backed Mr Clarke on Tuesday. Those who switched to him yesterday included Andrew Lansley, Stephen Dorrell, Adam Holloway, Sir George Young, Michael Jack, John Bercow, David Curry, Charles Hendry and John Horam.

Stewart Jackson, who backed Mr Davis in round one, changed horses to Mr Cameron. He said events had "moved on" since he declared his support for Mr Davis last month. "It is not personal, but I believe David Cameron has shown that he has the vision, charisma and the policy ideas to reach out to those groups who have stopped voting Conservative, such as women and professional people," he said.

Mr Cameron won a surprise recruit in David Heathcoat-Amory, a prominent Eurosceptic, who admitted he voted for Mr Fox on Tuesday in an attempt to knock out Mr Clarke. Another Clarke supporter, Quentin Davies, switched to Mr Davis.

The three contenders held a series of one-to-one meetings with wavering MPs and used BBC interviews last night to make a final pitch for votes.

Sport
The sun rises over St Andrews golf course, but will it be a new dawn for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club?
sportAnd it's Yes to women (at the R&A)
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
footballToure's lack of defensive work is big problem for City
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Psychology Teacher

£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

Food Technology Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week