Wobbly Tories: Conservatives still short of a clear win

While David Cameron is the favourite on points to be next prime minister, he is dogged by his party's ideological infighting
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Indy Politics

As the dust settles on the fallout from the 4 June elections and the failed coup against Gordon Brown, the Conservatives, under David Cameron, should be riding high on opinion poll ratings of 45 per cent or more, and preparing to wave goodbye to the last months of a Labour government.

But there are signs that the party is experiencing something of a wobble, although the Conservatives remain clear favourites to win in 2010.

The Tories, like all the main parties in Westminster, are being punished for the expenses crisis; and the success of Ukip in the European elections has kept the Conservative share of the vote in check.

In the past week, the Tory leadership has also been hit by rows over two toxic issues for the party: Europe, and tax and spending. And there is a further issue causing concern to senior figures: the publication next month of full details of pay and hours of outside business interests of MPs.

Last month, William Hague announced he was dropping his lucrative directorships in September to focus on the next election. And other senior Tories who earn tens of thousands of pounds outside Parliament will also come under pressure to scale back the moonlighting.

A poll published on Friday has put the Tories on 36 per cent, 12 points ahead of Labour. Yet, despite the healthy lead, this is short of the 40 per cent "magic" number needed to be confident of a majority at the next election.

But it is the row over Mr Cameron's decision to withdraw from the federalist European People's Party and form a new grouping with right-wing fringe parties that could become the most serious problem. Pro-European grandees such as Lord Brittan and Lord Patten have already condemned the decision as "unwise".

Mr Cameron and the shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague promised to unveil their controversial new European Parliament group within days of the elections, but this weekend only two parties were confirmed as members: the Czech Civic Democratic (ODS) and the Polish Justice and Law (PiS) parties, which have questionable records on gay rights.

And last week, Tory officials met members of the Danish People's Party, which is anti-immigrant and whose members are accused of Islamophobia. Last night a Tory spokesman insisted the party would have enough MEPs – 25 – from the seven countries needed to form a new grouping, which would be unveiled within days.

In the face of controversy about Mr Cameron's new homophobic friends, the party has taken steps to appear more gay-friendly.

A new event, backed by the Tory leadership, will be launched at the party conference in Manchester in October. Called "Conference Pride", the event carries a new version of the Conservatives' tree logo in rainbow colours. An insider said: "This is about celebrating diversity and reaching out to all sections of the party."

Cabinet ministers, trying to deflect attention from the Prime Minister's troubles, will this week step up pressure on the Tories by branding Mr Cameron "Mr 10 Per Cent".

It follows shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's remarks last week that Whitehall spending would have to be cut by 10 per cent after 2011 due to the economic climate. While Mr Lansley insisted he was referring to Labour's own figures, the Tory leadership was furious, believing Labour had been handed an easy slogan, "Mr 10 Per Cent", for the election campaign. Labour leaflets featuring Mr Cameron and the slogan were this weekend sent to marginal constituencies.

Next month, Ian Gibson, the departing Labour MP for Norwich North, leaves behind a 5,459 majority over the Tories. Given that they overturned a 7,000 Labour majority in Crewe and Nantwich last year on a 17.6 per cent swing, Conservative candidate Chloe Smith should win the seat easily. But if she fails, fresh questions will be raised over whether a Tory landslide is really on the cards.

David Cameron's European bedfellows

The Conservatives will announce within days their partners in a new Eurosceptic group in the European Parliament, when they will controversially depart from the European People's Party.

The rules state that the new group must contain at least 25 MEPs from seven different member states.

Exactly who is Conservative leader David Cameron getting into bed with?

Czech Civic Democrats (ODS)

Leader Mirek Topolanek, a former Czech Prime Minister, is a holiday friend of Silvio Berlusconi. Topolanek initially denied, then admitted, being the naked man pictured in a state of arousal next to a young woman on a sun lounger beside Berlusconi's swimming pool. The right-wing ODS has nine MEPs. Its founder, Vaclav Klaus, has cast doubt on scientific evidence about climate change. The ODS has publicly signed up to Mr Cameron's group.

Polish Justice and Law Party (PiS)

One of the largest parties in the European Parliament with 15 MEPs. Its leader is Jaroslaw Kaczynski, left. Party founders have made homophobic statements, including warning that homosexuality will lead to the downfall of civilisation, and it is opposed to gay-rights marches. Members of the PiS recently wrote that homosexuality was a "pathology". Publicly signed up to the new group.

Danish People's Party (PPD)

New Danish People's Party MEP Morten Messerschmidt, right, held talks with Tory officials in Brussels last Tuesday, but the PPD has not yet confirmed membership. It is anti-immigration and has been condemned for Islamophobia, as as well as by the Paris-based European Jewish Congress. Has two MEPs.

Movement for France (MPF)

The party of Philippe de Villiers, a Eurosceptic. Takes hard line on opposing European integration, but is also in favour of EU protectionism, something which the Tories oppose. The MPF has not yet confirmed membership.