Supporters of Iain Duncan Smith have begun a hunt for a candidate to stop the former minister Steven Norris automatically becoming the Tory candidate in the next London mayoral contest.
In a sign of the deep resentment Mr Norris has provoked among senior Tories, they say there is no foregone conclusion that the party machine will endorse him.
The resistance is growing despite his strong performance in the 2000 mayoral elections, where he came second to Ken Livingstone and beat the official Labour candidate, Frank Dobson.
Mr Livingstone sacked him last year from the board overseeing transport policy in the capital, amid suspicions that Mr Norris had already begun manoeuvring for the contest.
Mr Norris told The Independent last night that he was "itching to get his hands on the job". But senior shadow cabinet members made clear they hoped a strong challenger would stand against Mr Norris for the Tory nomination. One possible candidate is the former Olympic champion Lord Coe, who could count on high levels of voter recognition in a contest against Mr Livingstone. But his lack of strong links with London could count against him.
Duncan Smith loyalists hope the Tory leader in the Greater London Assembly, Bob Neill, might be persuaded to stand if Lord Coe declines.
Other possible candidates include Angie Bray, the GLA member for Kensington and a close ally of Mr Duncan Smith; Baroness Miller of Hendon, who was appointed a parliamentary education spokesman in September; and Andrew Boff, a former leader of Hillingdon Borough Council.
Mr Norris's critics claim that, despite his charisma and popular touch, he is far from popular with the party's grass roots in London.
They point out that the former party chairman Michael Ancram had to intervene to get him included in an emergency shortlist of candidates after Jeffrey Archer was forced to abandon his own candidacy.
He lost friends in the new Tory regime after he hinted that he might quit the party if Mr Duncan Smith won the leadership. Later he said the new leader was "on probation".
Since then Mr Norris has attempted to build bridges with Mr Duncan Smith, saying the early days of his leadership have been "surprisingly good".
He said last night that he was not taking the nomination for granted but believed most Conservative Party members in London would be "happy" to support him given his result at the previous election.Reuse content