A Tory MP who had previously called for a no confidence vote in David Cameron's leadership of the party has said he is now backing the prime minister in order to avoid the "horrific consequences" of an Ed Miliband led Labour government.
North West Leicestershire MP Andrew Bridgen has been one of the most outspoken Tory critics of the prime minister and had called for him to be replaced. But on Monday it was revealed by Conservative Home that he had unexpectedly changed his mind.
Speaking to The Huffington Post UK, Bridgen said voters were "concerned about the economy and jobs" and Tory MPs should now focus on selling the government's economic achievements rather than fighting with each other. "The economy is growing well and my reasons for writing the letter are in there," he said.
"We are basically a year out from the general election and I don't want anything I've done, or am doing, to make it more likely we have Miliband as prime minister with all the horrific consequences. With a year to go it's time for all Conservatives to come to the aid of the party. I'm determined to do my bit."
In order for leadership challenge to be mounted against Cameron, 46 Tory MPs have to sign letters and deliver them to Graham Brady - the chairman of the party's backbench 1922 committee. The number of letters Brady has locked in his safe is a tightly guarded secret and Brady is said to have assured MPs that not even his wife knows. Bridgen was one of just a few names that had been made public.
Downing Street's success in shepherding Bridgen back into the fold is quite a coup considering the battering the Conservatives are likely to take in May's European elections at the hands of Ukip.
Bridgen said the party had a "mountain to climb" to secure a Conservative majority in 2015 given the number of marginals. Asked whether he thought other Conservative MPs that had submitted letters calling for a leadership vote should withdraw them, he said: "That's a decision for Rt honourable and honourable colleagues to take for themselves".
The North West Leicestershire MP said he had the full support of his local Conservative association chairman, who he told a week ago, in his decision to throw his backing behind Cameron.
In June last year Bridgen was forced to confirm he had called for a vote of no confidence in the prime minister. At the time Tory MPs were suspicious that party Whips had leaked the information to get revenge at Bridgen for campaigning against Cameron's push for intervention in Syria.
Explaining his decision to call for Cameron to go, Bridgen said at the time: "The pilot doesn't know how to land it. We can either do something about it before the crash, or sit back, watch the in-flight movies and wait for the inevitable."
Bridgen's dramatic change of heart was first revealed on Monday morning by Conservative Home. In his letter to the prime minister, Bridgen acknowledged he still have serious policy disagreements with the party leadership but was willing to put them to one side.
The Spectator also reports No.10 is currently working on mending fences with several other unhappy backbenchers. But Cameron may still have some way to go to convince all his MPs to enthusiastically support him. Brian Binley told HuffPost UK the European elections would be a "major shock" for the party.Suggest a correction