LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister David Cameron could be removed as leader of the Conservatives to prevent the party losing power in the next national election, a lawmaker from his party’s right wing warned on Sunday after a heavy defeat in local elections.
Lawmaker Nadine Dorries made her public demand for a leadership contest in a newspaper article published on Sunday, as Cameron struggles to keep his coalition government together after the worst month of his two-year premiership.
A poorly presented budget which appeared to favour the rich, Britain’s return to recession and the loss of 405 seats in last Thursday’s local polls have convinced some Conservatives that Cameron and his finance minister, George Osborne, lack the competence and strategy to win the next national election in 2015.
Dorries, who described Cameron and Osborne last month as “two posh boys” who don’t know the price of milk, said Cameron could face a leadership challenge by Christmas.
“Cameron and Osborne should be aware: Conservative MPs will not sleepwalk into losing their seats,” Dorries, whose outspoken comments have earned her the nickname “Mad Nad”, wrote in the Mail on Sunday.
Though Osborne brushed aside her comments, Dorries warned that only 46 of the 305 Conservative lawmakers in the lower house of parliament were needed to call a leadership election.
“I would guess those signatures are already coming in and will reach 46 by Christmas,” she wrote, adding that Cameron’s leadership could provoke a split in the party that would pave the way for Labour to win the next national election.
The most prominent Conservative outside the government is Boris Johnson, who dodged the local poll defeat by winning a second term as London mayor. Tipped as a possible future prime minister, Johnson pointedly made no mention of Cameron in his victory address on Friday after the mayoral election.
Dorries said rightwingers may defect en masse because they are unhappy with Cameron’s attempt to court his pro-European Liberal Democrat coalition partners while shunning any talk of cooperation with the United Kingdom Independence Party, an anti-EU party that saw its support rise in the local election.
“If he continues in this vein, the right of the party may well split away, allowing Ed Miliband’s Labour to glide comfortably into No 10 at the next election,” Dorries wrote.
“This scenario can be avoided only by removing the men who are so stubborn and arrogant they cannot see the writing on the wall,” the 54-year-old lawmaker wrote.
Cameron, who won the party leadership in 2005 while it was in opposition, has staked his leadership on modernising the party to attract a new generation of voters.
But after promising economic prudence since forming the coalition in 2010, Cameron has been damaged by a return to recession and weeks of blunders that made ministers appear out of touch with voters struggling with high unemployment, price rises and low wages.
Finance minister Osborne, a close ally of Cameron, conceded that the government had poorly communicated some policies, but he dismissed Dorries’s threat, saying she had long been a critic on the edge of the party’s mainstream.
“For the last seven years I don’t think (she) has agreed with anything that either myself or David Cameron or indeed most Conservatives in the leadership of the party have done,” Osborne told BBC TV.
“She has objected to the modernising of the Conservative party … and that is her business. We have got to stay focused on what really matters,” he added.
The local poll defeat has deepened concerns on the party’s right that Cameron’s strategy of modernising is a vote loser.
“His political strategy and positioning are failing to deliver,” The Daily Telegraph, a supporter of the party, said in an editorial on Saturday. “He has alienated core voters without winning new ones.”
Cameron’s supporters say any shift to the right would be electoral suicide and that mid-term local elections often give voters a chance to punish an incumbent prime minister who then goes on to win the next national election.
But detractors say Cameron has made a series of blunders that could get worse as a scandal over illegal phone hacking by reporters at one of Rupert Murdoch’s British newspapers lays bare the ties between big money, media barons and politicians.
Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson – two former News of the World editors with links to Cameron – will appear before a judicial press inquiry on Thursday and Friday.
Coulson moved from the paper to become Cameron’s spokesman while Brooks is a former friend of the Conservative leader. Local media have reported that Brooks was willing to release text messages and emails between herself and the prime minister.
(Addtional reporting by Tim Castle; Editing by David Stamp)