‘Embarrassment’: Tory northern leader says Boris Johnson making life harder on doorstep ahead of local elections

Internal polling is said to suggest the blues could win enough seats at May’s local elections

Colin Drury
Friday 22 April 2022 16:26 BST
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Dr Antony Mullen – who has led the Conservatives in the city since 2020 – said convincing residents to give him their vote had been made harder by having a prime minister now known to have broken coronavirus lockdown laws
Dr Antony Mullen – who has led the Conservatives in the city since 2020 – said convincing residents to give him their vote had been made harder by having a prime minister now known to have broken coronavirus lockdown laws (Colin Drury )

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Boris Johnson has become an “embarrassment” to the Conservative party, the leader of the Tories in Sunderland has said as he campaigns to make historic gains on the northeast city’s local council.

Internal polling is said to suggest the blues could win enough seats at May’s local elections to deny Labour a majority on the authority for the first time since it was formed in 1974.

Such a loss of a flagship council would be seen as a massive blow to both the Labour Party’s prestige and to Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership.

But Dr Antony Mullen – who has led the Conservatives in the city since 2020 – said convincing residents to give him their vote had been made harder by having a prime minister now known to have broken coronavirus lockdown laws.

Dr Mullen is an academic by profession who’s also up for re-election this time round in his Barnes ward, where he lives.

“It’s not coming up on the doorstep as much as you might think,” he said.

“I think it’s one of those things where if you didn’t like him [Mr Johnson] before, then this is something else to utilise against him, and if you did like him before, it was kind of assumed this is the person he is – an unorthodox politician.

“But that’s not to downplay the anger some people are feeling. It’s there. And I agree with it. And it will, inevitably, lose some votes.”

It comes after the 30-year-old called on the PM to resign in January as the ongoing partygate revelations snowballed.

He said he stood by that demand. “I think it’s inevitable,” he said. “Probably after the Ukraine crisis or at the latest by Christmas. You can’t have a prime minister who breaks the law.”

Asked if he was embarrassed by the PM’s actions, he said: “I’m not personally because I’ve made it clear what my views are: I’m not a fan of him. I didn’t vote for him in the leadership contest. I voted for Jeremy Hunt as an Anti-Boris vote. But is it embarrassing for the party? Yes, I can’t see how it couldn’t be.”

Sunderland Council itself is currently led by Labour’s Graeme Miller who has a six-seat majority – and says he is not worried about losing it.

But if it is lost on 5 May when some 25 positions are up for grabs, it would open up the possibility of a Tory and Lib Dem coalition taking control of the authority in what is perhaps the reddest part of the old Red Wall.

“People will vote on local issues rather than on Partygate,” said Dr Mullen. “And we feel that’s where we’re making traction.”

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