Owen Paterson Is Trolling David Cameron, But Could He Be Plotting a Run for Tory Leader?
Overshadowed by the noisy departure of Baroness Warsi, another recently liberated Conservative is causing problems for his former boss, albeit in a slightly more subtle manner. While Warsi's weapon of choice was the Sunday Times front page, Owen Paterson's chosen medium thus far has been Twitter.
The former Environment Secretary has spent the weeks since he was sacked epically trolling the Prime Minister, and his other enemies for that matter, online.
Only a few days after he was fired, Paterson announced that he would be delivering the 2nd Annual Lecture of the Global Warming Policy Foundation in October. The organisation is chaired by Lord Lawson, a long time critic of David Cameron, and is considerably more climate sceptic than the government Paterson has just left.
His coming out of the closet as an opponent of the liberal consensus on climate change, though not a surprise to anyone, enraged the green lobby. You can imagine Paterson scrolling through the vitriolic tweets of green activists following his GWPF announcement, laughing his head off.
The following week, a tanned and relaxed-looking Paterson tweeted a lovely picture of himself alongside a smiling holiday companion. That one of Cameron’s former Cabinet ministers had "spent the day discussing the future with Lord Ashcroft" will not have gone unnoticed in Number 10.
Multi-million pound donor Ashcroft dropped his support for the PM last year in protest at the Conservatives' policy on gay marriage, with friends of the Tory peer sniping: "Lord Ashcroft is still a Tory but, he wonders, is Cameron?" Gay marriage opponent Paterson might well say the same.
Then there was Paterson’s request to his followers that "I'm looking for someone to run my new office, but I seem to have lost Dominic Cummings's phone number. Can anyone help?" Michael Gove's former Special Adviser Cummings had recently been described by Cameron as a "career psychopath".
Days later Paterson was tweeting dire polling numbers that put the Labour Party considerably ahead of the Tories.
Best of the lot came at the weekend. Briefed to the Times and trailed on Twitter, Paterson announced that he would be setting up a new think tank called UK2020, offering salaries of up to £50,000 to applicants interested in "developing a radical Conservative vision for a prosperous, sovereign and socially just Britain in 2020".
Its main objectives are to campaign for Britain to leave the European Union and to oppose climate change regulations. Included in the job advert is a veiled dig at the current government: "candidates will ideally be… able to reach beyond Westminster". Who possibly could he mean?
Right-wingers are privately suggesting - or perhaps hoping - that UK2020 is the British equivalent of setting up an exploratory committee. Working on the assumption increasingly held across the Tory party that Labour will form a government in 2015, 2020 is the earliest opportunity for the next Conservative Prime Minister to enter Downing Street.
Paterson would be a contender to be the Tory right's candidate for leader, given that David Davis has been there and done that and Liam Fox, though still optimistically ambitious, probably has too much baggage. Could it happen?
Paterson clearly wants to be a key player in Tory thinking over the next five years. He would also almost certainly lose a post-2015 Tory leadership election, but it isn't impossible he would throw his hat in the ring. Either way, as his advert for UK2020 promises, there lie ahead "some long hours and hard thinking, but lots of fun".