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The Conservative Party candidate in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election has been accused of “trying to erase” Boris Johnson from her campaign because he is seen as “toxic” to her hopes of retaining the traditionally safe Tory seat.

Tory candidate in Tiverton by-election accused of ‘trying to erase’ meeting with Boris Johnson

By David Parsley 

Mr Johnson visited the constituency last Friday to support his candidate Helen Hurford just hours after Chancellor Rishi Sunak had been in Devon to back her.

However, while the former headteacher turned beauty salon owner published a video of herself with Mr Sunak, she has not publicised the visit of the Prime Minister on any of her campaign social media sites or flyers.

Residents and rivals claim she sees Mr Johnson as a vote loser following Partygate and the parliamentary investigation into whether he lied over the lockdown-breaking activities of Downing Street during the Covid-19 crisis.

Following last week’s victory for the Prime Minister in the confidence vote by MPs, Ms Hurford, who is defending a Tory majority of more than 24,000, told i she would have supported Mr Johnson had she already been an MP.

She said: “If I was an MP at that time, I would have voted in favour of Boris because we need a leader that makes the big calls. He’s made the right decisions on those big calls.”

Last Saturday, Ms Hurford added that she considered Mr Johnson as “an asset” to her campaign, and that she would post a picture with him on her campaign sites in the coming days.

She said: “Yeah, it will go on. Perhaps Rishi may have felt that he would have been overshadowed.”

However, four days on since Ms Hurford told i that she would promote the Prime Minister’s support for her, she has failed to do so.

Instead, Ms Hurford has posted pictures of a visit by Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove on Saturday, and one from employment minister Mims Davies on Monday.

As well as Mr Sunak, she has also posted pictures and videos of herself with the Tory party’s co-chairman Oliver Dowden, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, and tourism minister Nigel Huddleston.

She is yet to promote last week’s visit of the Prime Minister in her campaign literature.

The official Twitter account for Tiverton and Honiton Conservative Party features pictures of Mr Gove, Mr Dowden and Mr Raab, but has avoided making any reference to the Prime Minister’s visit to the constituency so far. Ms Hurford does not have a Twitter account.

Ms Hurford’s main opponent claimed her campaign was avoiding any mention of Mr Johnson as he was a “vote loser on the doorsteps”.

Liberal Democrat candidate Richard Foord said: “There’s clearly been some hand-wringing in the local Conservative campaign about how to deploy Boris Johnson. Their conclusion was not at all, but they had no choice to but to accept the invitation that the Prime Minister made to himself to visit her in the constituency.

“I think he rather forced himself upon them. This is how I would read it. They’re trying to erase him from their campaign.”

Mark Field, a lifelong Conservative voter in Axminster, said he would not be voting for the Tories again until Mr Johnson was replaced as leader of the party.

“I didn’t even know he’d been in the constituency,” he said. “They snuck him in and out under our noses, didn’t they. And no wonder, he’d only get booed if he walked through Axminster. Even by many of us who voted for us last time. No wonder she’s hiding the fact that she met him. He’s toxic to her campaign.”

Ahead of Mr Johnson photo opportunity with Ms Hurford, he received a mixture of cheers and boos during a surprise visit to the Royal Cornwall Show.

Ms Hurford has been approached for comment.

The by-election was triggered by the resignation of Tory MP Neil Parish after he admitted watching porn in the House of Commons on his mobile phone.