Conservative Party members are dissatisfied with David Cameron and want him to stand down if he fails to win an overall majority at the next election, according to a survey for The Independent.
It suggests the Prime Minister will come under strong pressure to quit even if the Conservatives remain the largest party after the 2015 election and he tries to continue the Coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Tory MPs who want Boris Johnson to take over are already plotting a coup in the event of another hung parliament. They say they would force an immediate Tory leadership contest if Mr Cameron fails to secure an overall majority-even if he is still in Downing Street with the Lib Dems' backing.
The survey of 1,872 Tory members, conducted by the ConservativeHome website, shows that 67 per cent want Mr Cameron to stand down if he fails to win an outright election victory for a second time, while only 23 per cent do not.
It reveals that Mr Johnson is rated more highly by Tory members than any member of the Cabinet - and is their strong favourite to succeed Mr Cameron. The Mayor of London is favoured by 37 per cent of Tory members, who choose the leader in a ballot from a shortlist of two decided by Tory MPs. William Hague, the Foreign Secretary and former leader, is backed by 22 per cent and Michael Gove, the Education Secretary and a possible “stop Boris” candidate, by 16 per cent. George Osborne, the Chancellor and the man Mr Cameron would like to see succeed him, appears to have little hope of taking over. A tiny 0.5 per cent of Tory members back him as the next leader.
Tory activists are gloomy about their party's prospects at the 2015 election. Two out of three (65 per cent) believe Labour will head the next government and only 35 per cent that the Tories will retain power. This is a marked deterioration since the summer.
According to ConHome, six out of 10 members (59 per cent) believe the Tories have underestimated Ed Miliband after his successful Labour conference speech last week, while 30 per cent disagree. Nine out of 10 (89 per cent) think the Labour leader “doesn't have to be brilliant to win the next election, simply an acceptable alternative to the Coalition parties,” while 8 per cent disagree. But most Tory members (54 per cent) believe that Mr Miliband is “still a huge weakness for Labour, lacking prime ministerial qualities,” while 31 per cent disagree.
The Cabinet satisfaction ratings show that only half of Tory members are happy with Mr Cameron's performance, which puts him in the bottom half of the ministerial rankings. Two Liberal Democrat ministers, Danny Alexander and Michael Moore, score higher than the Prime Minister - a remarkable finding in a party whose members are normally loyal to their leader. Mr Osborne scores even worse than Mr Cameron: only 46 per cent of Tory members are happy with his performance, while 53 per cent are not.
In contrast, some 95 per cent of Tory activists are satisfied with Mr Johnson's performance, and only 4 per cent dissatisfied. Some Cameron allies fear the London Mayor will eclipse the Prime Minister at the party conference in Birmingham, where he will address a fringe meeting tonight and the main conference tomorrow.
Mr Johnson even outscores the most popular Tory Cabinet ministers - Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary; Mr Gove and Mr Hague.
Tory members are clearly angry with Andrew Mitchell, the new chief whip, after his verbal assault on policemen guarding the Downing Street gates. He comes bottom of the 30 rankings, just below Nick Clegg, with only 11 per cent of members happy with his performance and 85 per cent unhappy.
Ministers promoted in last month's Cabinet reshuffle who are highly rated by party members include Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary; Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary and Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary. They are regarded as performing much better than Mr Cameron.
Amid signs of grassroots apathy about the Birmingham conference, the poll reveals pressure to reform the annual gathering. Asked what would make them more likely to attend it, 53 per cent of members opted for “real democracy” with representatives able to debate “real motions”; 40 per cent suggested a move back to seaside resorts with cheaper accommodation and 39 per cent wanted “a Conservative Party more in tune with my beliefs.”