‘Don’t punish us’: Tory candidates brand themselves ‘local Conservatives’ to escape Partygate

‘This Thursday, please don’t punish local Conservatives for the mistakes made in Westminster – we are local and proud of where we live’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 04 May 2022 14:28 BST
Partygate: Boris Johnson says he has 'no idea' if he will be fined again

Tory council election candidates are calling themselves “local Conservatives” and pleading with voters not to “punish” them for the Partygate scandal.

The extraordinary attempts by some candidates to distance themselves from Boris Johnson’s troubles are revealed in election leaflets distributed in the run-up to the nationwide polls on Thursday.

They read: “This Thursday, please don’t punish local Conservatives for the mistakes made in Westminster, we are local and proud of where we live and, like you, we want the best for Hartlepool.”

At least two candidates in the flagship red-wall town have put an identical message on their leaflets, and there are reports of similar tactics being employed by some Tories in London.

Meanwhile, a cabinet minister has hinted that the prime minister may have to fall on his sword if it becomes clear that he has lost the support of his own MPs, ahead of Friday’s crucial results.

Two weeks ago, Mr Johnson was forced to abandon an attempt to block a contempt inquiry into whether he had lied to parliament over the lockdown parties held in Downing Street.

George Eustice, the environment secretary, said: “All prime ministers will always be very conscious of the mood in their parliamentary party, because no government can get anything done unless it enjoys the support of the parliamentary party as a whole.

“So of course the prime minister will be thinking about these things.”

Mr Johnson has escaped further fines from the Metropolitan Police in the run-up to elections day, but the controversy has dogged the Conservatives on the doorstep.

On Tuesday, the prime minister revealed that he had “not so far” received a questionnaire for a leaving party in No 10 during lockdown, which was held for his outgoing director of communications Lee Cain.

There are reports that some Downing Street staff have received questionnaires about the event – held on the same November 2020 night as the “Abba” party in Mr Johnson’s own flat.

Daisy Cooper, the Liberal Democrat deputy leader, said Conservative candidates would be unable to escape the public backlash against illegal parties, whatever they called themselves.

“Local or not, Conservative candidates are still backing a law-breaking prime minister and a tax-raising chancellor – even if they’re too ashamed to admit it,” she said.

Government ministers have also been accused of being out of touch on the cost of living crisis – as Mr Eustice suggested hard-pressed Britons buy cheaper “value” brands to save money.

Mr Johnson was criticised for downplaying the biggest plunge in living standards in decades, when he said voters were “feeling the pinch”.

“I know that families across the country are feeling the pinch as the cost of living rises,” the prime minister wrote in a newspaper article. “That’s why we’re focused on growing the economy to address the cost of living, and it’s why keeping bills down and cutting council waste is more important than ever.”

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