Why battle to succeed Dave is already under way

There's no vacancy yet, but MPs want to ensure a real choice

Senior Tories are already discussing holding an "open, televised" contest for the next leader of the Conservative Party in an attempt to prevent a Gordon Brown-style coronation of George Osborne, it emerged yesterday.

The talks about an open race, which is being planned for when David Cameron steps down, rather than a plot to unseat him, have been prompted by concerns by backbenchers that the next leadership contest is already being carved up as a "narrow choice" between Mr Osborne, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson.

Despite the next Tory leadership contest being at least three years away, the race effectively began this week with key political positioning from the camps of Mr Osborne and Mr Gove.

Some Tory MPs fear that Mr Osborne, despite suffering setbacks over his Budget U-turns and the Leveson inquiry, is best placed to organise a coronation, as Mr Johnson is not even an MP and Mr Gove is deemed unlikely to win over Labour voters in any election.

In a sign of how the next contest is emerging in the forefront of MPs' minds, one senior Tory has held talks with BBC and Sky about holding a TV leadership hustings on a par with the leaders' debates of the general election campaign.

Talk about the Tory succession has escalated because the Prime Minister has been badly damaged by the Leveson inquiry, including his close friendship with Rebekah Brooks, currently awaiting criminal trial, say MPs.

An insider said: "There should be several candidates for the next contest, when that comes. We cannot have a coronation of George Osborne. We need an open, televised debate with as many candidates as possible, and to let a thousand flowers bloom."

While it is for Tory MPs, not members of the public, to decide the leader, such a debate could propel an outsider to the front of the race and persuade MPs to change their minds. Senior Tories want contenders from all wings of the party and believe the contest should include some from the 2010 intake. Names that are being suggested include Jesse Norman, Kwasi Kwarteng and Liz Truss.

Despite being outside Parliament, Mr Johnson is a possible contender if he secures a seat in a by-election after stepping down as London Mayor in 2016 and is quietly amassing support among backbenchers, including some members of the 2010 intake.

Mr Gove, meanwhile, sent a strong message to the party's traditionalist wing last week with the leak that he was planning to scrap GCSEs and bring back the O-level. While it seemed designed to unsettle Lib Dems and divide the coalition, the long-term aim was to "stake a flag in the sand" of the next leadership contest, said one supporter of the Education Secretary.

Mr Osborne is organising a rehabilitation of his own brand as a strategic mastermind and future leader, severely damaged by successive U-turns over the Budget and his association with Rupert Murdoch's inner circle.

But the Chancellor, despite a loyal band of supporters within ministerial ranks and backbenchers, faces concerted opposition within the party. One Tory minister said: "There is a danger George is spreading himself too thin. What happened with the Budget has taken the sheen off our great political strategist. But he needs to make a decision about whether he wants to be Chancellor or party chairman."

The minister, who remains a supporter of the Cameroon Tory project, also attacked the "duopoly" of Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne at the top. "When people see two rich boys at the top, it tarnishes the whole government. We're not all like that. Being seen as out of touch we can address over time. Being seen as incompetent is much more dangerous."

MPs are urging Mr Cameron to expand his inner circle, and make more use of ministers including Eric Pickles, Grant Shapps and William Hague to shake off the public perception of being a party of toffs. Mr Cameron also needs to be "more optimistic" like Ronald Reagan, rather than repeat the gloom-laden messages about economic austerity, said the minister.

Likely Candidates

George Osborne

Echoes of Gordon Brown are eerie. Having seen his charismatic pal get to No 10, he wants to get there too. Like Brown, Osborne has a Macavity-ish trait. Colleagues would rather he did his day job properly.

Boris Johnson

A rare thing in modern Tory circles: an election winner. In London the blond bombshell can reach parts of the electorate his fellow Bullingdon Club pals can't. He has an eye on succeeding Dave, and the ranks of Tory MPs warming to the idea is growing.

Michael Gove

The Education Secretary has realised winding up the Lib Dems is a fruitful way of bolstering his position. Whether buttering up journalists attacking the Leveson inquiry or appealing to the "good old days" brigade, he is a man on manoeuvres.

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
news
Life & Style
tech
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Sport
Luis Suarez of Liverpool celebrates his goal
sport
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
News
news
Arts & Entertainment
film
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Arts & Entertainment
Homer meets Lego Marge in the 25th anniversary episode of The Simpsons, set to air on 4 May
tv
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal