I maintain my belief that David Cameron will never be Prime Minister. Events of the past week have simply confirmed that in my mind.
In one of those scary moments last night, I was watching This Week on BBC1 and the wife and I were just chatting about Cameron. I said that his greatest flaw was that he wasn't lucky and then up pops Kelvin 'Gotcha' McKenzie to say exactly the same thing - . I almost feel sorry for Davey - he's trying so hard and everyone seems to be against the poor little rich boy. The Sun and the Mail look to be opposed and, according to Kelvin, even the loyal old Telegraph is considering its position and could go against Cameron if his performance doesn't improve by conference time.
His decision to put a photo-opportunity in Rwanda ahead of his own, flooded constituency was a mistake. Not that foreign aid isn't important - it is vital in helping international stability, reducing the refugee problem and is part of our international duty - but in terms of impact, the shots of Cameron wandering around in the blazing sun when his own constituents were waist-deep in sewage were wasted. Even though he was only on the ground for a few hours (two days, I think) and an MPs role in cleaning up the flood mess is rather limited, he blew it. The image is that while his own electorate were underwater, Cameron considered a photo-opportunity on another continent more important. That sort of thing could cost an MP in a more marginal seat very dearly indeed. Meanwhile, Ming the Merciful and Gordon were showing their faces on the muddy ground and looking concerned - which is what we expect of our leaders at times of crisis. Being even more cynical, the news impact of the trip was completely silenced by matters at home.
Dave has set an example of absence from his post, one which was followed by the Tory leader of Oxfordshire council, who felt that he could best guide the rescue efforts from the vantage point of the Commons' public gallery.
Added to that is the failure to come second in either of last week's by-elections. According to Dominic Grieve (shadow attorney-general), David put his heart and soul into the Ealing campaign. As we know, he even put his own name front and centre in an attempt to reap more votes. The truth was that the Tory vote increased in Ealing - the focus of David's campaign - by as much as it increased in Sedgefield, where he didn't show his face as far as I know.
Then we have the polls. Of course, we all know that there is only one poll that counts and that's the general election (book your diaries for May 2008 if this carries on, folks), but the Guardian one earlier in the week and the Telegraph today don't make for pleasant reading - 6 points plus adrift of Labour after ten years of opposition isn't a good place to be, even after a change in Labour leadership.
While Cameron was sunbathing in deepest Africa, Gordon was stealing his clothes as the unified border force heads towards reality. The Tories can whinge that it was one of their policies enacted by the government, but that won't make a lot of difference - governments are the only ones likely to be able to do that kind of thing and voters will reward those who take action, not just those who demand it.
And then there's the party. I've always said that the Tory party have to be hungry for power and then they will follow their leader almost anywhere if it holds the hope of a return to government. Cameron is their only hope that I can see (unless Nick Clegg decides to cross the gangway) and I thought he could count on their broad support fairly solidly up until the next election. There have been many rattled by his newly-discovered social conscience, but the dissatisfaction is such that Stanley Kalms, a generous donor to the party and ennobled as a Tory peer, raised his head above the parapet and demands that the leadership listens to the membership. Dave was even forced to plead for unity and responded with an attack on the EU treaty in PMQs.
Mind you, Davey-boy hasn't had a glittering path so far - he was there beside Lamont when the pound fell out of the ERM, he was there when ITV Digital blew a hole in that company's accounts to the tune of around a billion pounds. And when a right-wing manifesto was needed to drag the party to a third consecutive defeat, Dave was there for that as well. So, the next time the Tories drag out their comparisons to Macavity, remember that Cameron's always there when things go pear-shaped.
The next election could define the future of the Tory Party. If he does well - if he pushes Labour all the way and slices the government majority or even, heaven forbid, wins, then he'll probably survive. If he loses badly - fails to make gains or even slides backwards, then he'll fall on his sword and may take the electoral chances of the Tory party with him for a generation as they lurch back to the right.
Cameron will probably lead the party into the next election, but the tell-tale signs of division are starting to show through his PR papering. He's proud of his shooting (not that he ever discusses it in public), but he has been winged himself over the past week.