A former Conservative councillor has called on voters to back Labour in tomorrow’s local elections.
Sophia Sleigh www.huffingtonpost.co.uk
The dramatic intervention by Barry Macleod-Cullinane, who served as deputy leader of Harrow Council when the Tories were last in power there, said the prime minister was “destroying” his party.
In a letter, he called on residents to vote Labour to “send Boris Johnson a message”.
Macleod-Cullinane said: “We now know that Boris Johnson broke the law and has lied repeatedly to Parliament and to us.
“He’s taking us for fools – and we can’t let him get away with it. A vote for Boris Johnson’s Conservatives on Thursday 5th May will be a vote for his chaotic leadership. We deserve better. That’s why I’ll be voting Labour on Thursday 5th May.”
Other former Conservative councillors are telling voters to back the Liberal Democrats in tomorrow’s elections.
Meanwhile, HuffPost UK can reveal that Conservative associations have shunned visits from cabinet ministers as campaigners warn that brand Boris is “shattered”.
Candidates have also put disclaimers on their leaflets pleading with the public not to “punish” them for “mistakes made in Westminster”.
Staff in Conservative campaign headquarters [CCHQ] are braced for the fallout, with one survey even putting the Tories on track to lose nearly 550 seats amid the backlash over partygate and the government’s response to the cost of living crisis.
HuffPost UK has spoken to Tory candidates who say they have been reluctant to allow government ministers to visit their wards due to “toxic” Westminster politics.
Sources said a number of London associations did not want any CCHQ involvement in their local campaigns.
“I know associations have turned down cabinet member visits,” one Tory campaigner said.
After Conservative chairman Oliver Dowden recently visited Wales, a council candidate said: “A lot of people didn’t want him coming here because they have been told everything needs to be local.”
In Elmbridge, Surrey, a former Conservative councillor wrote to residents urging them to vote for the Lib Dems in two key wards.
Councillor Alan Kopitko wrote: “You only have to look nationally with the lies that Boris and his followers have portrayed denying parties that they engaged in during lockdown echoing themselves whilst the Covid infection was spreading, and people were dying. This is detrimental to our democracy, whatever your political affiliations.”
Tory candidates have been marketing themselves as “Local Conservatives” with hundreds listed under the label on the ballot paper for the first time. They have also been leaving the prime minister off their leaflets.
Others have been more blatant in their bid to distance themselves from the national party, with Hartlepool candidates writing on their pamphlets: “This Thursday, please don’t punish local Conservatives for the mistakes made in Westminster, we are local and proud of where we live, and like you, we want the best for Hartlepool.”
Senior Tory MPs including ministers and deputy prime minister Dominic Raab have also recently adopted green branding for their constituency material.
A Tory campaigning in London said: “Things aren’t great really for the Conservative Party. Partygate is still coming up, it’s really shattered trust in the government and Boris.
“People are now linking it to other things, for example the government doesn’t understand the cost of living because they are so out of touch. That comes up quite a lot.
“The Boris brand is completely shattered, a lot of people are saying things like ‘I don’t trust him, I thought he’d be different, I thought he’d be on our side, I thought he’d be funny’.
“None of that exists any more. There’s still a lot of anger. Ukraine is coming up a little bit, cost of living is probably the main thing and that personal trust in the government is coming up a lot.”
However, seasoned observers are less worried because they say the last time the elections were held the Conservatives did badly and Labour did well so the results might therefore mask the true level of discontent.
They hope by the time the next general election comes round that the government has improved its position and standing.
It is also quite usual that non-governing parties do well at local elections and some Tories on the doorsteps say that national issues are not being raised at all.
One Red Wall Tory MP said partygate had proved “a bit of an issue” on the doorstep but that only around 10 per cent of Tories were bringing it up.
They added: “I’m not detecting people going back to Labour in any numbers at all, it will all come down to turnout in terms of what result we get this week.”
Another Red Wall Conservative MP on the campaign trail remained fiercely optimistic, saying: “It’s all to play for in last couple of days, we’re very close to winning in a few traditionally Labour areas.”
Some of the main areas to watch include Tory flagship councils Wandsworth and Westminster, as well as Barnet, Southampton, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Thurrock.
The results could fuel speculation over Johnson’s leadership, with some MPs already seeing the election as a referendum on the prime minister.
HuffPost UK has heard that staff working for some leadership hopefuls have been trying to “tap-up” MPs for support for weeks.
One MP has also admitted they are a campaign manager-in-waiting for one hopeful.
Some MPs think any leadership challenge must take place in a “window of opportunity” soon after Thursday’s results are announced or Johnson will likely be taking them into the next general election.
However, it all depends on whether enough letters of no confidence have been submitted to chairman of the 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady.
One senior backbencher is said to be in “full-on manoeuvres” as MPs across the party say they have been approached by his staff.
The Conservative Party has been contacted for comment.