More than half of Tory members want to see Theresa May stand down before the next election, a new survey has revealed.
Research by the Conservative Home website shows 52% of party members want to see the Prime Minister gone by 2022.
May vowed last week to lead the Tories into the next election – a comment which prompted a mixed response from colleagues given the disastrous outcome of the June vote.
Conservative Home editor Paul Goodman – a Tory MP from 2001 to 2010 – said her remarks did little more than “hand political ammunition to her internal critics.”
Goodman added: “Our judgement is that as matters stand she doesn’t have enough backing within either Party members or Conservative MPs to see her words of last week through.
“However, there is no consensus at all within the Party on who should replace her, and most Tory MPs (and activists) don’t want to risk another election soon - which gives her the chance to rebuild her position, if she and her team can take it.”
The survey results come a day after David Cameron’s former chief spin doctor Craig Oliver accused May of throwing a “big rock” at the Tory party just as it was coming together after the election failure.
Speaking about May’s pledge on BBC Radio 5Live’s Pienaar’s Politics, Oliver – who quit Downing Street after being on the losing side of the referendum vote – said: “I was genuinely surprised to hear it and I was also genuinely surprised that a lot of the commentary that went around it was people saying ‘well, what do you expect? She had to answer the question.’
“She didn’t have the answer the question in that way. She could have said: ‘I’m in Japan trying to get to a situation to make sure we have a proper trade deal with them when we leave the EU. All my focus is on Brexit and I’m not going to get drawn into side shows.’
“What’s happened as a result of this is they’ve taken a very big rock and thrown it into the pool at precisely the wrong time.
“What they needed to do was say: ‘We’ve got our heads down, we’re working for the country.’
“If they want to stay on in the long term, this is only going to happen organically, this is only going to happen by people saying: ‘You know what, she screwed up in the election but actually she’s doing a very good job.’
“It’s not about asserting yourself in this way because actually that just winds a lot of people up.”
The Prime Minister’s comments are a marked contrast to her words to Tory MPs in the immediate aftermath of the party’s disastrous election result, where she vowed to stay in the top job for only “as long as you want me”.
Questions about the length of May’s stay as Prime Minister reached a head last week when the Sunday Mirror reported she had penciled in August 30 2019 as the day she would quit Downing Street.
When asked during a trade trip to Japan last week if she intended to lead the Tories into the next election, May responded: “Yes. There’s been an awful lot of speculation which has no basis in it whatsoever. I’m in this for the long term.”
She added: “I’m not a quitter.”
Brexit campaigners Peter Bone, James Cleverley and John Redwood all supported her comments.