The former Tory chairman has today broken cover as the ringleader of a group of around 30 MPs plotting to dump Theresa May out of Downing Street by Christmas.
Grant Shapps is trying to drum up 48 colleagues who will allow him to trigger a new leadership contest after the Prime Minister’s disastrous cough-dominated party conference speech in Manchester.
Mr Shapps spoke out last night and said: ‘The writing is on the wall for May. We can’t just carry on. I think having lost an election the party must look for a new leader to take us forward’.
Fellow Cameron-era cabinet minister Ed Vaizey, a close friend of George Osborne and David Cameron removed by Mrs May after six years as minister for the arts, said: ‘Quite a few people are firmly of the view she should resign.
‘The Tory Party conference… was a great opportunity to reboot the party and the country and give a clear sense of direction. That didn’t happen and, yes, I am concerned.’
Asked if Mrs May should quit, he replied: ‘I am finding it increasingly difficult to see a way forward, and it worries me.’
Plotting against the Prime Minister has reached fever pitch after a sore throat saw her cough and splutter through an agonising 65 minutes on the stage in Manchester – some critics are circling to have her removed
The Prime Minister has been blighted by a sore throat throughout the conference and was left gulping down water and throat sweets as her landmark speech went croaky
Grant Shapps is trying to drum up 48 colleagues who will allow him to trigger a new leadership contest after the Prime Minister’s speech disaster. Fellow Cameron-era cabinet minister Ed Vaizey said: ‘Quite a few people are firmly of the view she should resign.
Two sides: Backbencher James Cleverly paid tribute to Mrs May’s bravery in the face of adversity – but her trade envoy Mark Pritchard branded those trying to oust her ‘cowards’
Some Tory MPs last night rounded on ‘cowardly’ and ‘embittered’ former ministers plotting to topple Theresa May in the wake of her chaotic conference speech.
HOW TORY LEADER CONTESTS WORK
Tory rules set out a tight process for forcing a leadership contest.
Letters expressing no confidence in the PM must be sent by 48 MPs – 15 per cent of the total – to the chairman of the 1922 committee.
MPs then vote in a series of rounds, with the candidate receiving the least support being eliminated until only two remain.
Those two then go head to head for votes from ordinary party members.
Former culture minister Ed Vaizey yesterday became the first senior Tory to call publicly for the Prime Minister to resign, saying ‘quite a few people’ were ‘firmly of the view’ she should go.
The plotters claimed about 30 MPs, including four former cabinet ministers, privately shared his view.
One ringleader even suggested there was a ‘50/50 chance’ that the group would send a delegation to Mrs May this weekend calling for her to leave.
But Cabinet ministers and the ‘men in grey suits’ on the backbench 1922 Committee yesterday moved to kill off the plot by giving Mrs May their backing.
And there was growing anger at the activities of the plotters, many of whom are former ministers who were either sacked by Mrs May or who have fallen out with her in the past.
Business minister Margot James said: ‘There are some ex-Cabinet ministers and ministers who are extremely embittered individuals who just want to get their own back for the fact that they don’t feel recognised.’
Fellow Tory Mark Pritchard hit out at the ‘cowardly’ plot, saying: ‘Attempts to drum up a delegation of 30 MPs to try and force the PM out will fail. They are also cowardly. If any MPs want her out, there is a process.’ Mrs May sacked a string of ministers in her first reshuffle, including Mr Vaizey, then education secretary Nicky Morgan and then business minister Anna Soubry, all of whom have been sharply critical of the PM.
Mrs May’s set-piece speech to the Tory conference on Wednesday was derailed when a prankster infiltrated the event and handed her a mock P45. She then suffered a prolonged coughing fit, and, in a final indignity, letters started falling off the conference slogan on the wall behind her.
Plotters, who have been seeking to oust her since the summer, seized on her misfortune to launch a fresh bid to remove her.
One said Mrs May could face a delegation as early as the weekend.
‘It has to be all or nothing,’ he said. ‘We can’t have a situation where a few go public with their criticism and the rest fade away.
‘There is a small window of opportunity here, more people are coming forward.’
Comedian Simon Brodkin managed to get through security at the Manchester venue and hand Mrs May the P45 in one of several disastrous parts of the speech
Theresa May’s troubled keynote speech got worse when the set failed and the slogan ‘Building a country that works for everyone’ as letters cascaded down behind the PM as she spoke
At the end of the shambolic speech , Philip May leapt on stage to give his embattled wife a huge hug and she appeared crestfallen afterwards
But party grandees yesterday moved to strangle the plot at birth. Cabinet ministers made it clear they would not back any attempt to topple the PM.
Business Secretary Greg Clark said most admired ‘the guts and grace that the PM showed in the face of some pretty difficult and unexpected developments’.
And Charles Walker, vice- chairman of the 1922 Committee, said: ‘Most colleagues that I talk to are right behind the Prime Minister and think she is doing an outstanding job in very, very difficult circumstances.’
Party whips do not believe the plotters are close to having the support of the 48 MPs they would need to trigger a formal challenge.
PM ACCUSED OF COPYING WEST WING IN CRUCIAL SPEECH
The West Wing’s Josiah Bartlet (right)
Theresa May’s Tory Party Conference speech was plunged further into ridicule after a section of it appeared to be lifted from US TV show The West Wing.
Just when it seemed things could get any worse for Mrs May, observant viewers recognised that a certain sentence bore a striking similarity to The West Wing’s fictional President, Josiah Bartlet.
The PM said yesterday: ‘It’s when tested the most that we reach deep within ourselves and find that our capacity to rise to the challenge before us may well be limitless.’
In comparison, Martin Sheen’s character said during a 2002 episode: ‘Every time we think we’ve measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we’re reminded that that capacity may well be limitless.’
But some ministers are said to be worried that Philip May could advise his wife to stand down after her gruelling performance.
One insider dismissed the concerns, saying: ‘You should never underestimate her sense of duty. Or his.’
However, privately, even her allies fear this week’s speech may have shortened her political shelf life.
Mrs May has said she plans to fight the 2022 election. But friends think she may be forced to step aside within months of Britain leaving the EU in March 2019 to allow a new leader to take the fight to Labour.
Mrs May, who suffered from a heavy cold throughout the conference was yesterday taking a planned day off at her constituency home.
Another senior backbencher told MailOnline: ‘There are not enough plotters. There seems to be enough support for the PM.’
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said Mrs May should stay to see through Brexit.
‘It was a difficult day yesterday. The most important thing is that we hold the Conservative party together because the real tragedy would be if we end up with Jerem Corbyn getting into Number 10 Downing Street,’ he told Sky News.
‘That would be a tragedy for the whole country. We need to hold the Conservative party and the government together and move forward.’
He added: ‘I think we are going to carry on with Theresa May, certainly until we get through the Brexit process.’
Meanwhile, Business Secretary Greg Clark said Mrs May had shown ‘guts and grace’.
‘The face that she stayed through it and gave a gutsy performance, I think she had immense respect for that,’ he told the BBC.
And the head of the PM’s policy board, George Freeman, insisted she would stick around out of a ‘sense of duty’.
‘I’m sure if the Conservative party asked her to go, she would, but I don’t hear that happening this morning at all,’ he said.
‘And I think the prime minister has a very strong sense of commitment to duty, to public service. In the same way that Her Majesty the Queen puts public service at the heart of everything she does, the prime minister is driven by a very deep sense of public service to country.’
How the Prime Minister could be toppled
by Jason Groves political editor for the Daily Mail
Tory leadership rules give MPs the power to trigger a contest at any time.
Under the rules, which date from 1998, a ballot has to be held if 15 per cent of Tory MPs write a letter expressing no confidence in the leader to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee – currently Graham Brady.
In practice, this means that plotters need to persuade 48 MPs to formally register their unhappiness with Theresa May.
Mr Brady has never commented on the number of letters he receives.
But some insiders believe as few as 15 MPs have put their concerns in writing.
If a vote is triggered, other candidates would have to receive the backing of 48 of their colleagues to stand against her.
Letters to Mr Brady have no expiry date – meaning they can pile up over time – although they can be rescinded.
If a contest were triggered, MPs would hold a series of votes to whittle the number of candidates down to two.
A final decision would then be made by a ballot of the 120,000 party members.
Mrs May’s position has been bolstered by a huge backlash against Boris Johnson over his leadership manoeuvring this week.
He has been blamed for ‘hijacking’ the conference and undermining the chances of getting the party back on track after the dismal election result, which saw Mrs May stripped of her overall majority.
The Foreign Secretary, who was also criticised by colleagues over a tasteless joke about Libyan tourism reviving after ‘dead bodies’ are cleared away, could face open calls for him to be sacked when the powerful 1922 committee meets on Monday night.
The lack of an obvious successor would mean holding a full-blown leadership contest at a crucial stage in Brexit negotiations – which many MPs fear would tear the government to shreds.
Downing Street sources revealed cabinet colleagues had been calling Mrs May to praise her for finishing the speech despite her sore throat, while Scottish leader Ruth Davidson said afterwards: ‘If ever the PM needed a metaphor for service and duty and resolution through adversity, that battling performance was it! Huge respect’.
Loyal backbencher James Cleverly said: ‘The cough and the prankster may dominate the headlines but we saw Theresa May stand unflinching and determined. We’re proud of you’.
A Tory staff member takes the letters off the screen after Mrs May’s calamitous speech to the party’s conference yesterday
The PM attempted to laugh off the speech shambles by tweeting a picture of throat sweets next to her ministerial red bo
Boris Johnson, who has faced a backlash this week for manoeuvring against Mrs May, seemed to be enjoying himself during her speech yesterday
Cabinet ministers including (left to right) Philip Hammond, Amber Rudd and Boris Johnson looked on anxiously as the drama unfolded. Ms Rudd at one point urged Mr Johnson to stand up and applaud
One senior figure thought to be at more immediate risk is Tory chairman Sir Patrick McLoughlin.
There had already been speculation that the Cabinet minister would be dropped as part of a reshuffle in the wake of the disastrous election campaign.
The calamitous gathering in Manchester this week leaves him at even greater risk.
The Prime Minister had wanted to use her set-piece speech to the Tory conference to launch a political fightback and drag the party on to the front foot after weeks of infighting.
But it became an extraordinary personal ordeal after she was interrupted, hit by a coughing fit so severe she temporarily lost her voice and then left embarrassed as parts of the set collapsed behind her.
To the horror of Cabinet ministers and activists, the situation took another dramatic turn for the worse when a notorious prankster managed to carry out an extraordinary security breach to approach the podium and hand her a fake P45.
And to cap off the misery letters then began falling off the Conservative slogan positioned in full view of TV cameras behind Mrs May.
Bookmakers quickly slashed the odds on Mrs May being replaced within a year.
In contrast to the PM’s nightmare, Mr Johnson was seen as having delivered a barnstorming speech to the Tory faithful on Tuesday.
Ironically given her throat issues, one of Mrs May’s key phrases was that she wanted to become a ‘voice for the voiceless’.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in the aftermath of Mrs May’s stumbling performance that it would become ‘one of the more famous coughs in history’.
The premier also attempted to laugh off the shambles by tweeting a picture of throat sweets next to her ministerial red box.
However, Tories are well aware of the dangers when leaders develop a reputation for misfortune, having effectively exploited Ed Miliband’s habit of blundering.
TORY CHAIRMAN FACING CALLS TO QUIT OVER SHAMBLES
Sir Patrick McLoughlin
Tory chairman Patrick McLoughlin is today facing calls to quit after a shambolic conference that saw a notorious prankster get within touching distance of the PM.
The Cabinet minister is under intense pressure to take responsibility for the massive failure that meant comedian Simon Brodkin could get a pass.
Brodkin, better known by his TV persona Lee Nelson, was able simply to walk up to the podium as Mrs May delivered her keynote speech and hand her a fake P45.
The premier calmly put the document on the floor and carried on, but seemed to be thrown off her stride. For the next hour she endured the agony of her voice giving out due to a persistent sore throat, leaving observers wondering whether she would be able to finish delivering it at all.
To cap off the misery letters then began falling off the Conservative slogan positioned in full view of TV cameras behind Mrs May.
The blame game started even before the speech yesterday was over, with many pointing the finger at Sir Patrick.
There had already been speculation that he would be dropped as part of a reshuffle in the wake of the disastrous election campaign.
Before the dramatic scenes unfolded in Manchester, Mrs May had been making a bold bid to turn the tables on Labour by unveiling a series of policies designed to show the Tories are on the side of hard-working families.
She started by making a grovelling apology for the disastrous election campaign, admitting it had been too ‘presidential’ and she must take responsibility.
In a highly personal passage, Mrs May also conceded that her ‘unemotional’ image as an ‘ice maiden’ had been damaging and spoke of her sadness at not being able to have children.
But her performance was stumbling as she struggled with a severe sore throat. Philip Hammond at one point stepped in to hand her a lozenge.
‘The Chancellor giving something away for free,’ she joked.
Comedian Simon Brodkin also managed to breach security to step up to the podium and hand over a fake P45 – saying ‘Boris Johnson told me to’.
Mrs May shot back: ‘I’m about to talk about someone I want to give a P45 to – Jeremy Corbyn.’
Activists and ministers gave the PM a series of awkward standing ovations as at times it looked as if she might not be able to complete the speech.
At the end, Philip May leapt on stage to give his embattled wife a huge hug.
Mr Johnson was in the front row to witness the debacle, seated next to Home Secretary Amber Rudd – one of his most vocal detractors.
At one stage Ms Rudd demanded that the Foreign Secretary stand up to applaud the PM.
Mrs May told the Tory faithful: ‘I know that people think I’m not very emotional. I’m not the kind of person who wears their heart on their sleeve.
‘And I don’t mind being called things like the Ice Maiden – though perhaps George Osborne took the analogy a little far.
‘But let me tell you something.
‘My grandmother was a domestic servant who worked as a lady’s maid blow stairs.
‘She worked hard and made sacrifices, because she believed in a better future for her family.
‘And that servant – that lady’s maid – among her grandchildren boasts three professors and a prime minister.’
Admitting the election campaign had gone badly wrong, she said: ‘I am sorry.’
She vowed that the Tories would become the party of ‘compassion’ and a ‘voice for the voiceless’
Mrs May attacked the ‘broken energy market’ in the biggest announcement of her speech.
She said: ‘The most loyal customers are those with lower incomes, the elderly, people with lower qualifications and people who rent homes.
‘People who have less time to shop around.
‘Next week this government will publish a draft bill to put a cap on energy bills, meeting our manifesto promise and bringing an end to rip off energy prices once and for all.’