Tories will be ‘hammered’ at next election unless they regain trust, cabinet minister’s aide says

Even the party faithful are now asking ‘how can we handle the tough stuff’, warns Bim Afolami – after Owen Paterson ‘debacle’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 15 November 2021 18:41
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The Conservatives will be “hammered at the next election” unless the party regains public trust, an MP and cabinet minister’s aide has warned Boris Johnson.

In an extraordinary rebuke, Bim Afolami has branded the handling of the Owen Paterson lobbying scandal a “debacle” and a “pivotal moment of this parliament”.

The aide to Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, said even committed Tories were questioning the prime minister’s competence, and asking: “If we can’t handle this sort of political issue, how can we handle the tough stuff that really matters?”

And he warned: “The danger of this political moment is that the Conservative government may be close to losing a very precious thing – the benefit of the doubt.

“I don’t know for how long this will be the case, but I do not believe that our fall in poll support to the mid 30s will be temporary, nor is it just about this ‘sleaze’ issue.”

Mr Afolami said that after 13 or 14 years of Tory rule Mr Johnson would be vulnerable, at the next election, to Labour’s “powerful time for a change” message.

It would also be fought against the backdrop of “debt higher than in 2019, NHS backlogs still high, and household incomes still stretched”.

“If we add to these factors a public sense that we are not in politics for the right reasons, or that we aren’t focused on practically improving people’s lives, we will get hammered at the next election and deservedly so,” Mr Afolami said in an article for the Conservative Home website.

“We need to prove that we are worthy of the trust that was placed in us in 2019 and show we are focused on delivering for the public. Unless we do that, we will go the way of previous long-running administrations.”

The Paterson affair has triggered a slump in Mr Johnson’s popularity and his party’s poll ratings – and fury among his own MPs over the costly own goal.

There is little sign of the government regaining the momentum, as it faces a tricky Labour-inspired vote on Wednesday that will challenge Tory MPs to ban second jobs.

Mr Afolami, who calls himself a one-nation Tory, also pointed to public perception that government members are not “doing their jobs effectively enough”, adding: “Dare I say it, I think they are right.”

And he said: “Our poor handling of the issue has led even our strongest supporters to question our ability to manage the country: if we can’t handle this sort of political issue, how can we handle the tough stuff that really matters?”

There was a “nagging sense in the public that we should be better governed”, the MP wrote, adding: “Since the prime minister is at the apex of the system, he will carry most of the can.”

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