The Conservatives are reportedly ready to overthrow David Cameron and replace him as party leader with London mayor Boris Johnson if he fails re-election next month.
Senior Tories have drawn up plans for a speedy “coronation” for Boris should there be, as opinion polls suggest, a hung parliament.
Mr Cameron could be replaced even if the Conservatives polled the highest number of votes or win more seats than Labour but have to form a coalition to remain in Number 10.
But sources say that it is not a “coup” but merely “sensible contingency planning” should the party need a new leader quickly. Mr Cameron himself has suggested that he would have failed as leader if he cannot lead a majority of Conservative MPs in the House of Commons.
The early hours of 8 May look to be a potential bloodbath for party leaders, with every single one – aside from Nicola Sturgeon – risking a huge amount on the outcome of the vote. Nick Clegg may even possibly lose his seat in Sheffield Hallam as the Liberal Democrats seem certain lose half of their current seats. Should Labour not do well, many will be clamouring for Ed Miliband to step down and should he be forced into a coalition with the SNP there will be many plotting behind the scenes.
According to The Telegraph, a variety of Conservatives, from ministers to backbench MPs and party officials, have suggested that Mr Cameron’s time as leader will be brief should favourable results not be declared, although there are a number of options being discussed.
One includes Mr Cameron to remain as Prime Minister for a short period while the party arranges the leadership being handed over to Boris Johnson, who would then try to organise a cabinet for a minority government. Another involves the Conservatives declining the chance to form a government should the numbers not be in their favour and instead step back and allow Labour and the SNP enough rope to hang themselves in a coalition of the left.
Although different polling companies have produced results with both a small Tory and a small Labour lead, the most likely scenario following the counting of votes is the Tories winning in terms of being the largest party but failing to win the 326 seats it needs for a majority government. It will be loathed to join forces with smaller parties like UKIP and the DUP and may prefer to see a short-lived Labour government which would quickly collapse.
As incumbent Prime Minister, Mr Cameron would be offered the first attempt to form a government in the event of a hung parliament, although there is a concern that the party simply does not have the allies to be able to do so.
Instead, and to avoid a formal vote of no confidence, senior MPs would tell Mr Cameron to resign – ensuring a smoother transition and missing out on the inevitable PR disaster which a leadership election always brings as a party turns inwards.
MPs believe that the Prime Minister would not resist, pointing to a BBC interview last week when he seemed to suggest that his remaining as leader would not be feasible without the outright majority.
“If the numbers aren’t there, there would a very strong argument for saying: ‘You’ve now failed to win two elections in a row – time’s up’.” said a senior Tory.