Crispin Blunt, the Tory MP who resigned from the front bench hoping to force a challenge to Iain Duncan Smith's leadership, pleaded with his colleagues yesterday to act more like champions and less like a team happy to avoid relegation.
Mr Blunt has written to all Tory MPs explaining his reason for quitting on Thursday evening and suggesting that they could help force Mr Duncan Smith out of office.
Yesterday the indications were that despite Mr Blunt's resignation, Mr Duncan Smith is saved, or at least reprieved, by the Tories' performance in the local council elections, in which they gained 545 local council seats.
Central Office yesterday insisted the threat to Mr Duncan Smith had passed. A spokesman for the leader said: "I don't think it is an issue. If it was ever an issue it has been laid to rest by the results. One has to assume that some people don't support him as the leader but the vast majority of the party do."
The spokesman described Mr Blunt as a "lone voice" in the parliamentary party, a claim backed by Tim Yeo, the Shadow Cabinet member who had been his immediate boss. Mr Yeo said: "I told him in advance I thought he was making a frightful mistake, but his mind was made up."
Yesterday, Mr Blunt said he had been flooded with emails and other messages of support. One party activist, from Guildford, told him that canvassing in a local election with Mr Duncan Smith as party leader was "like carrying around a block of concrete".
Mr Blunt sounded exasperated by the leadership's attitude that they could celebrate winning 34 per cent of the total vote, well below the levelneeded to win a general election. "We are the Manchester United of politics. We shouldnot be frightfully pleased because we've avoided relegation. We should be going for the championship.
"If it turns out that my colleagues, instead of coming to their own views, listen to the pundits all telling them that 34 per cent is enough, it will be a denial of reality. My views are shared by a significant majority of MPs."
While no other Tory MP joined Mr Blunt's public call for a leadership election, there were others who suggested Mr Duncan Smith had only been reprieved.
The MP Derek Conway tells The Politics Show on BBC1 today: "You're leader so long as you're performing well or ... if results are going well." Asked if Mr Duncan Smith was doing well, he replies: "I think so far the jury's still out." The Tory leader now had to be "faultless" until the general election. "I think sadly the record does show that some of the wounds have indeed been self-inflicted."
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies