Boris Johnson is an asset in the local elections – but on rival parties’ leaflets

After his ratings plunged in the wake of “partygate” and as his government faces demands to act over the cost of living, it may be a surprise to discover that Boris Johnson’s face can be found on leaflets for the forthcoming local elections. Unfortunately for the prime minister, it is not his own party’s literature that features his image.

Michael Savage 

The Observer has seen Conservative leaflets circulated in London, the Midlands and the north of England in recent weeks. None of them shows Johnson, once regarded as the Tory politician able to reach voters that no one else in his party could.

In the London borough of Sutton, however, the Liberal Democrat canvassing material has the PM in pride of place on the front. 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 increasing taxes.

“The prime minister isn’t featuring on any of the leaflets,” said a Tory MP in a council area where the party had hoped to make gains before partygate unfolded. They said that at one point, local voters would have carried Johnson in victory down the high street, but he would now struggle to get polite handshakes: “A lot of candidates are now trying to make this about local services. It would be pretty odd on that basis to feature the prime minister.”

With Johnson seemingly not the electoral asset he once was, many Tory council candidates appear to be trying to run hyper-local campaigns. A leaflet in Surrey prioritises defending the green belt and repairing local roads and footpaths. Another in Richmond, London, includes a list of “good reasons to vote Conservative”. It features the plea: “We are local residents, not national politicians.”

The latest edition of the “Birmingham champion” leaflet produced to support Tory West Midlands mayor Andy Street does not feature the PM. In fact, with its green graphics and personal branding for the mayor, the Conservative logo is nowhere to be found. Another leaflet in Stockport vows to take on Labour’s Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, but does not show Johnson.

The Conservatives are braced for a difficult set of elections in London, where they have been losing ground even while Labour was well behind in the polls nationally. Some had feared losing the key London borough of Wandsworth, though senior Tories said last week that they believed the invasion of Ukraine may have helped partially restore the party’s fortunes, but only temporarily. One Tory MP said that there was frustration with Johnson. “Voters may be on a timeout with partygate, but this is coming back,” they said.

Some Tories in London are also trying to pin the blame for council tax increases on Sadiq Khan, which they say is starting to get through to voters. “It might save the Tories from a meltdown in some areas,” said one veteran campaigner. “It is just possible that the Tories will hold on to Wandsworth. It’s harder to win Westminster, but there might be some surprise 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 asset is.”