Tories may not win, chairman says
The Tories may not win the next general election, party chairman Grant Shapps has publicly conceded.
Mr Shapps said the Conservatives would have to show "leadership and vision" if they were to stand a chance of gaining an outright majority in 2015.
However, in a clear warning to would-be leadership challengers, he stressed that David Cameron remained more popular in the country than the party as a whole.
Mr Shapps also took a series of sideswipes at their coalition partners in the Liberal Democrats, calling them "cockroaches" and dismissing Business Secretary Vince Cable as a "commentator on the economy".
In an interview with Parliament's The House magazine, he sought to play down the Conservatives' poor showing in the Eastleigh by-election when they were beaten into third place behind the UK Independence Party.
"Mid-term by-elections have a long, almost proud tradition in this country of having a protest party win," he said.
However Mr Shapps, who is in charge of the party organisation, acknowledged there was no guarantee they would recover in time for the next general election in two years' time. "We may or may not win the next election but my God we need to finish this, the job of stopping this country going bust, fixing the mess that Labour left, or at least as far as we can," he said. "If it's not finished, we will be asking to come back and finish it as a majority government. We need to show people we have the leadership and vision to do that."
Mr Shapps sought to play down reports that Home Secretary Theresa May was preparing the ground for a future leadership challenge, after she delivered a well-received speech setting out her political vision ranging way beyond her departmental brief.
"It was a very good speech. Sometimes parties get in power and they stop fizzing with ideas. We clearly have very clear passionate debates. I think it's really good for the party," he said. "I think having people set out ideas is really important. It shows that we're healthy."
But amid growing unrest among Tory MPs, he warned against any attempt to unseat Mr Cameron. "David Cameron is more popular than all of us ... more popular than all of the party in the country, which is a key point that lots of people do recognise," he said.