After his ratings plunge in the wake of ‘partygate’ and his government faces demands for action on the cost of living, it may come as a surprise to find Boris Johnson’s face on leaflets for the next local elections. Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, it is not his own party literature that presents his image.
the Observer has seen Tory leaflets circulating in London, the Midlands and the north of England in recent weeks. None of them show Johnson, once seen as the Tory politician who could reach voters no one else in his party could.
In the London borough of Sutton, however, Liberal Democrat canvassing material puts the prime minister in the spotlight on the front lines. Next to him is Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, and both are accused of failing to take enough action on energy prices and the cost of living – while raising taxes.
“The Prime Minister is not on any of the leaflets,” said a Tory MP in an area of the council where the party had hoped to make gains before partygate opened. They said that at one point local voters would have carried Johnson to victory on the high street, but he would now struggle to get polite handshakes: ‘A lot of candidates now try to do this about the local services. It would be quite strange on this basis to feature the Prime Minister.
With Johnson seemingly not the electoral asset he once was, many Conservative council candidates appear to be trying to run hyper-local campaigns. A leaflet in Surrey prioritizes defending the green belt and repairing local roads and footpaths. Another in Richmond, London, includes a list of ‘good reasons to vote Conservative’. He presents the plea: “We are local residents, not national politicians.”
The latest edition of the ‘Birmingham champion’ leaflet produced in support of Conservative West Midlands Mayor Andy Street does not feature the Prime Minister. In fact, with its green graphics and personal branding for the mayor, the Conservative logo is nowhere to be found. Another flyer in Stockport promises to take on Manchester Labor mayor Andy Burnham but does not show Johnson.
The Tories are bracing themselves for a tough series of elections in London, where they have lost ground even as Labor trailed far behind in nationwide polls. Some feared losing the key London neighborhood of Wandsworth, although senior Tories said last week they believed the invasion of Ukraine may have helped partially restore the party’s fortunes, but only temporarily . A Tory MP said there was frustration with Johnson. “Voters may be on a break from partygate, but it’s coming back,” they said.
Some Tories in London are also trying to blame the council tax hike on Sadiq Khan, who they say is starting to hit voters. “It could save the Tories from a meltdown in some areas,” said a campaign veteran. “It is just possible that the Tories will keep Wandsworth. It’s harder to win Westminster, but there could be some surprising results.
In response to the Lib Dem leaflet in Sutton, a Tory source said: ‘If you want to compare the electoral successes of Boris Johnson and Ed Davey, I think we all know who the electoral trump is.’