Tory polling guru says party ‘finished’ if Boris Johnson stages comeback
The Conservatives would be “finished” and a viewed as an “utter joke” if Boris Johnson were to stage a comeback as prime minister, the party’s polling guru has warned.
The former Tory leader is battling to save his political career as he prepares to face a televised grilling by MPs over whether he lied to parliament about Partygate on Wednesday.
Mr Johnson is still eyeing a potential return to No 10, however – with allies hoping that being cleared by the privileges committee will be a springboard for a revival in his reputation.
But Lord Hayward has warned the Tories that any move to replace Rishi Sunak and go back to Mr Johnson would be a disaster for the party.
“Having had two different prime minister changes last year – there is no credibility whatsoever that we could have another one and not say the Tory party is finished,” said Lord Hayward. “It would be an utter joke.”
The Tory peer said Mr Johnson is “a serious negative for most people”, adding that his personal polling remains far worse than Mr Sunak’s.
“The population have not parked Partygate. They still view it as a Tory party matter but they are viewing it as a Boris matter,” Lord Hayward said.
He added: “Rishi gets a much, much higher rating as competent than Boris. He gets a much higher rating as trustworthy than Boris, so there is some cut-through.”
Lord Hayward also told reporters that recent council by-election results suggested a slight upturn in the Tories’ fortunes under Mr Sunak. He would not expect May local election losses to be as great as if the elections had been held a few weeks ago.
“[Mr Sunak] may be pulling the Tory party up. What seems to be happening is, the longer he is in as prime minister the less of an impact Boris [and] Partygate is having,” he said. “I think the impact is diminishing of Boris in terms of the Conservative brand. It is still there but it is diminishing.”
It comes as Mr Johnson and his allies were accused of trying to “bully” the investigating committee of MPs ahead of his showdown televised grilling on Wednesday.
Mr Johnson’s legal team finally handed a defence dossier to the committee on Monday, but his rebuttal of allegations that he lied to parliament is not expected to be published until Tuesday after redactions are made.
According to a new report, the former Tory PM told parliament that Covid rules had been followed “at all times” at No 10 parties without any explicit assurance from advisors.
His defence dossier is expected to include a message from his then-communications director Jack Doyle offering him a “line to take” on gatherings ahead of telling MPs no guidance or rules had been broken.
But a Whitehall source told The Times that Mr Johnson had gone “off script” when he told the Commons on 8 December 2022: “The guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times.”
In their recent damning 20-page interim report, the privileges committee poured scorn on the fact that Mr Johnson’s key claim – that all Covid rules were followed – came from a special adviser and was not “a general assurance (that) no guidance or rules were broken”.
It comes as senior Tories joined Labour in urging the Johnson camp to stop “disgraceful” efforts to undermine the privileges committee – warning that it “borders on contempt of parliament”.
Johnson ally Jacob Rees-Mogg said the cross-party committee investigation was “political” – and suggested it dates back to “haters of Brexit” trying to bring him down.
He told his GB News show: “The privileges committee is not even a proper legal setup. It has a gossamer of constitutional propriety thrown over it, but it is in fact a political committee against Boris Johnson who had a mandate. And why is his mandate challenged?
“Well, of course, it’s by the haters of Brexit, the haters of Brexit who never accepted the election result that he achieved and what he did to take this country out of the European Union.”
One senior Conservative MP accused Mr Johnson and his allies of trying to “bully” the committee in a way that “borders on contempt of parliament”.
The Sunak backer told The Independent: “To seek to interfere with due process – to try to cheat the process – is a serious issue. It could backfire when it comes to MPs and the mood to punish him. If you keep making out this out to be a kangaroo court, it shows you just don’t get it.”
Tory MP Nigel Mills told The Independent: “It smacks of desperation. They’re attacking the referee before kick-off.”
Mr Sunak said he would not tell his MPs how to vote on any punishment that may be recommended by the privileges committee. The PM told BBC Breakfast: “These are matters for parliament and the House and MPs as individuals, rather than for government.”
Seven in ten voters (70 per cent) say Mr Johnson misled parliament over Partygate, according to a new Savanta Comres poll. Two in five (40 per cent) say he “definitely” misled MPs and three in ten (30 per cent) say he “probably” did.
“A renewed airing of the dirty Conservative laundry that is Partygate has the potential to undo the green shoots of recovery in the polls Sunak has presided over,” said Savanta director Chris Hopkins.