MP Adam Afriyie has emerged as a surprise contender to be the next Conservative Party leader if David Cameron fails to deliver a majority at the 2015 general election.
Several Sunday newspapers reported that MPs had been approached to endorse the credentials of the self-made IT millionaire - who became the party's first black MP in 2005.
It was said to be a "well organised" campaign by individuals concerned about the party's prospects of being returned to office amid poor opinion poll ratings and grim economic news. But the Prime Minister's popular promise of an in/out referendum on Europe appeared to have squashed speculation it could be part of a plot to oust him before the election.
Mark Field, one of those reported to have been pushing Mr Afriyie as a potential leader, said: "I do not think it's any plot against the Prime Minister".
The Mail on Sunday said that Windsor MP Mr Afriyie, when asked about the campaign, said: "You are being very mischievous. I supported David Cameron to become leader. I love him and want him to be leader for the next 20 years."
He later told the newspaper in an email: "David Cameron is Prime Minister and I am concerned that the media is taking attention away from the promised referendum. We are all working hard to achieve a Conservative majority so the British people get their say on the EU."
The newspaper said MPs approached to give their support had been told Mr Afriyie had the backing of 40 MPs although others put the number at half that. Mr Field told the Mail on Sunday that he had had "a handful of conversations with people" but that there was "no mass campaign" in support of Mr Afriyie.
"Discussing him as a long-term option has nothing to do with destabilising the Coalition or plotting against the current leadership. It would be impossible to do that given how the rules operate and counter-productive."
The Sunday Times quoted a "friend" of Mr Afriyie, who is 47, as saying: "The team are well organised. They are very concerned about the long-term future of the party and believe Adam is the future. He has a fantastic back story and is very impressive."
Among factors in favour of the relatively unknown MP - who was shadow science minister before the 2010 election - are said to be his upbringing in a poor part of south London and the fact that he has never claimed travel or second home expenses.