Nick Clegg and David Cameron
Nick Clegg and David Cameron (Reuters)

As David Cameron has been struggling to match Labour leader Ed Miliband's recent political advances, and with the 2015 general election campaign already well under way, the prime minister has come under pressure from rival wings of his party over the best way to regain momentum.

Leading Conservative figure and editor of the influential ConservativeHome website, Paul Goodman has long been a contributor to the debate and has now voiced the often unspoken fears in Tory ranks that Cameron simply cannot do it - that he is "not a proven winner" and will fail again in 2015.

Even worse, for a significant group of current Tory MPs, they fear Cameron would actually prefer a second coalition deal with Nick Clegg as part of his modernisation agenda than be beholden to them.

The suspicions that the Tories under Cameron have, at best, lost focus or, at worst lost their way lay under the surface of interventions from senior colleagues including moderniser Nick Boles and former prime minister Sir John Major.

Current opinion polls put Labour on course for a win and, while Cameron's' supporters believe he can turn it around as the economy continues to improve, there is a real fear he might be back in hung parliament territory again and might be looking towards another coalition.

For many of those in the party who were either already opposed to the deal with the LibDems or who have come to view their coalition partners with deep suspicion, that is the nightmare scenario.

Dislike him

Goodman spelt it out these recurring fears in the most straightforward language.

"Because of the way the demographics work, the impact of Ukip and because of left-wing LibDem voters going off to Labour, it's extremely unlikely there will be a Conservative majority in 2015.

"The range of possibilities is between a solid Labour majority and a Cameron led minority government or coalition with the Conservatives as the biggest party coming back with a similar or slightly better result that they got in 2010.

"A friend of mine said he (Cameron) would like either a Conservative majority of 50 or 60, or if that was not available, the coalition with a bolstered majority of 50 or 60.

"What he won't want is a majority of 5 in which he is dependent on the votes of people who distrust him and in some cases dislike him. And I think my friend's analysis is right," he said.

Goodman pointed to the suspicion over Cameron's motives and a distrust in him that lay behind the rift between him and the not insubstantial group of MPs, even some ministers, who feel he would rather he did not have to deal with them at all.

"There has been for some time, and remains, a problem of trust. There are a lot of Conservative backbenchers who are not badly disposed to him, who recognise him as the leader and don't want a challenge and who admire and respect him in many ways, but they are not entirely convinced he is one of them.

"There is a long history of distrust that runs from the A listing (of potential candidates), his handling of the expenses scandal, through the way the coalition was sold to the 1922 committee (of Tory MPs) to the way he even tried to abolish the 22 committee, to the whole question of the style of government.

"If you are out on the front line in the war you want to know the staff officers are completely on your side and for some of those people on the frontline there is a question mark about that.

"I can give you a solid list of reasons why its happened, but there is an element of it that is mysterious. David Cameron was brought up in an old rectory, was in the Conservative research department, his cousin was Margaret Thatcher's head of policy - his background is essentially Conservative. Yet for some people in his party there is a sense he is not quite one of them.

"And don't neglect the obvious, that he is not a proven winner. Thatcher won three elections, he has yet to win one," he said.

Border control

Goodman also highlighted the issue Labour likes to challenge Cameron with, that his background and wealth means he can never understand or empathise with ordinary people.

"His position with voters is better than Miliband's he looks more like a prime minister he is more comfortable as a prime minister and to a lot of voters, that is the important point.

"But having said that, when times are hard, and they have been and still are hard for lots of people, you want to know that your leaders, if they don't feel your pain they at least understand it. That has always been a problem for a leadership that has two people who look and sound the same.

"Cameron and George Osborne have known pain in their private lives, at least David Cameron has with his son. But evidently they have never gone hungry and that is a problem.

"Also it is true that, if you talk to Conservative MPs and ministers they are still critical of what they see as a distance between Downing Street and them. That was true six months ago and, despite the Cameron charm offensive over the last six months, it is still true."

As for the policy agenda, Goodman recently wrote that Cameron should make control of the country's borders a red line in negotiations with Brussels and be prepared, if he didn't get his way, to change his view and recommend withdrawal from the EU.

"I'm not saying we should leave now, but if he doesn't get a change on border controls in the negotiations he has promised, he should recommend leaving. It is one of the objectives he should aim for, it has reached the limit of what is endurable in not controlling our own borders," he said.