Boris Johnson allies to hold conference aiming to ‘take back control’

Boris Johnson allies will hold a political conference this spring aimed at “taking back control” of the Conservative Party.

The Conservative Democratic Organisation (CDO), the group set up after Mr Johnson was kicked out of No 10 by his own party, is to hold its first convention in Bournemouth on 13 May.

But Mr Johnson will snub the conference, The Independent understands – despite being invited to speak at the event in the wake of the disastrous local election results expected for Rishi Sunak.

Johnson supporters Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nadine Dorries and Priti Patel will make speeches or join debates at the first national gathering of the CDO.

The group run by key Johnson backer Peter Cruddas, a major donor to the former PM, wants Tory members to have a bigger say in electing candidates and party leaders.

“Are you ready to take back control?” the CDO asks on its website. “We look forward to welcoming you to the CDO conference … where you’ll join like-minded patriots who, like you, want to save our party and our country.”

Mr Rees-Mogg said he was “looking forward to addressing the voluntary party, which I have long thought is the backbone of Conservatism”.

Ms Dorries said the conference was “going to be exciting”. Referring to Mr Johnson’s removal, she added: “Recent events have made it clear, it’s time for members to play their part and take control.”

The organisation – launched on the back of an unsuccessful “Bring back Boris” campaign in the summer – is campaigning for a directly elected Tory chair and wants members to have a bigger say in policy and party constitution.

It is also pushing for local associations to be able to select their candidate and deselect their MPs “if necessary”, despite concerns right-wing activists could push moderates out of the party.

David Campbell Bannerman, chair of the CDO, suggested there might be “at least 60 MPs” who would be “getting a little nervous” after leading moderate Damian Green was effectively deselected by his local constituency.

But its vice-president Stephen Greenhalgh denied Mr Green’s deselection was linked to “punishment” over Mr Johnson’s downfall.

The CDO leadership plans to meet Tory chair Greg Hands to give him the first draft of a “grassroots manifesto”, according to The Telegraph.

Tory donor Lord Cruddas is a staunch backer of Boris Johnson (PA)
Tory donor Lord Cruddas is a staunch backer of Boris Johnson (PA)

Mr Johnson’s bad-tempered performance at the Partygate inquiry – at which he struggled to explain away advice given against giving assurances that Covid guidance was followed in No 10 – is thought to have killed his chances of a comeback.

He also failed to inspire much of a Commons revolt against Rishi Sunak’s post-Brexit agreement, which passed by a huge majority of 486.

One senior Tory MP told The Independent the Partygate hearing and Brexit vote were the “death throes of Boris cult”. A former Tory minister put Mr Johnson’s support among MPs at around 25, predicting that could recover “slightly” to “40 max”.

Tory peer and polling guru Lord Hayward said it was “striking” how few Tory MPs joined with Mr Johnson in the post-Brexit deal. “There’s a very big message there,” he said.

Lord Hayward added: “His support is clearly diminished. Is it over? No, it’s not over, but it’s striking that in September 100 names signed his nomination form, and the number who are declared Boris backers has been dropping and dropping.”

Leave.EU co-founder Arron Banks – the so-called “bad boy of Brexit” – held talks with Lord Cruddas and discussed the CDO, according to the Sunday Times.

Lawyers acting for the Tory peer said the pair had met for lunch and drinks but that the work of the CDO was “only discussed in passing”.