Election leaflets distance ‘local Conservatives’ from Boris Johnson

Tory candidates in Thursday’s local elections are styling themselves “local Conservatives”, and in some cases urging voters not to punish them for “mistakes made in Westminster”, as they prepare to count the cost of Partygate at the polls.

Heather Stewart www.theguardian.com 

The Conservatives are braced for losses in Thursday’s elections, in which every seat in Scotland, Wales and London will be contested, as well as many other English councils.

Leaflets delivered in Hartlepool say: “This Thursday, please don’t punish local Conservatives for the mistakes made in Westminster. We are local, and proud of where we live.”

In many parts of the country, including Birmingham, St Albans, and in the Esher and Walton constituency of the justice secretary, Dominic Raab, Tories are listed as “local Conservative”, even on the ballot paper.

Leaflets delivered in Hartlepool say: ‘Please don’t punish local Conservatives for the mistakes made in Westminster.’

Leaflets delivered in Hartlepool say: ‘Please don’t punish local Conservatives for the mistakes made in Westminster.’ Photograph: undefined/Twitter

A leaflet for Keith Rowe, in Birmingham Northfield, carries a picture of the label “local Conservative” as it will appear on the ballot paper, and the claim: “This is a straight fight between Keith and an unknown Labour candidate.”

In Newcastle-under-Lyme, Conservative leaflets stress, “this election is about local issues, not national issues”.

Boris Johnson’s picture rarely appears on the scores of local election leaflets from across the country seen by the Guardian. Some MPs, particularly in the south of England, have warned that Partygate is coming up frequently in doorstep conversations – as well as the cost of living crisis.

The Liberal Democrats have accused Boris Johnson of failing to campaign in “blue wall” areas such as Surrey, where they believe recent revelations about the prime minister’s lockdown breaches are particularly damaging.

Conservative MPs will be watching closely to see whether council seats change hands in their local patch, potentially pointing the way to Labour or the Liberal Democrats challenging them in a future general election.

Labour hopes to come second in Scotland, and to make progress in councils covering swing seats in England and Wales they would need to win to unseat the Conservatives at Westminster.

Some Tory MPs say that the aftermath of the poll could prove dangerous for Johnson if the Conservatives have a bad night and he is then blamed for the loss of hundreds of seats.

Labour and the Lib Dems are playing down the likelihood of a large number of councils changing hands – but the main parties’ share of the vote will be scrutinised for signs that Johnson has become an electoral liability.

The deputy Labour leader, Angela Rayner, said: “It speaks volumes that Boris Johnson’s own Conservative candidates are ashamed to be associated with him and trying to pull the wool over voters’ eyes.

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“With no answers to the cost of living crisis, Tory candidates are trying to hide from their own government’s record. A vote for Labour on Thursday is a vote to send the Conservatives a message they can’t ignore. Britain deserves better.”

The Metropolitan police are continuing their investigation into Partygate. Johnson has received one fixed-penalty notice for breaching lockdown rules by attending a birthday party.

The prime minister has told allies he does not expect to receive further fines, but it is widely believed at Westminster that more may come. The Met has said it will not update the public further until after the local elections.