Tories turn to Boris Johnson to counter Reform

Updated
Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson is being drafted in by the Tories to play a more active role in the election campaign as the party seeks to counter the threat from Reform UK.

Tens of thousands of letters signed by the former prime minister are due to be delivered to voters later this week, The Telegraph can reveal, after the Conservatives warned that a vote for Reform risked putting Labour in power for “a generation”.

The direct mail drive urging people to vote Tory is Mr Johnson’s closest involvement yet in the Conservatives’ attempts to defy the polls.

Among those voters believed to have been targeted are wavering Tories who backed the party when Mr Johnson was leader but are now tempted by Reform.

On Monday, the Conservatives issued their starkest warning over Nigel Farage’s party yet after the Reform manifesto launch, saying: “If you’re thinking about voting for Reform, and a generation under Labour scares you, there’s only one way to prevent it: vote Conservative.”

In the last fortnight, there have been discussions about Mr Johnson appearing in person on the campaign trail to boost the party’s fortunes.

Isaac Levido, the Tory campaign manager who also ran his 2019 election bid, is known to admire his former boss’s communication skills. Mr Levido and Mr Johnson have been in regular contact during the campaign, including about how the former prime minister could help out.

But it remains unclear how much Mr Johnson is willing to do to support Mr Sunak, a man many of his allies still blame for his ousting from Downing Street.

Mr Sunak’s resignation as chancellor in July 2022 triggered a ministerial stampede for the exit door, with Mr Johnson resigning 36 hours later.

So far, Mr Johnson has limited his campaign role to video endorsements for individual MPs who have asked for them, and pro-Tory columns in the Daily Mail. But those articles often make no explicit mention of Mr Sunak, and the video support messages made public so far have tended to be for loyal allies.

On Monday, another campaign video by Mr Johnson was released in which he urges people to vote for Alice Hopkin, the Tory candidate in Normanton and Hemsworth, to avoid handing Labour a ‘super majority’. He urges voters: “Don’t let Starmer get away with it.”

Mr Sunak and Mr Johnson have not talked during the campaign, according to one Johnson ally, suggesting their relationship has not fully healed. They had shared texts about Israel-Gaza policy issues the day before the snap election was called.

One ally of Mr Johnson told The Telegraph he was still weighing up whether to campaign in person. Asked why the Tory campaign wanted to deploy him, the source said: “The simple answer is he gets cut through. That is a rarity in this Conservative campaign.”

Sources in both the Tory campaign and close to Mr Johnson dismissed any suggestion there was friction between the two camps. They stressed Mr Johnson had not turned down any specific offer to join a campaign event.

One idea had been that that he would campaign in Red Wall seats that he won in 2019. In the past, his allies have said Mr Sunak would have to call and ask for his help.

With limited time before the election, Mr Johnson’s overseas commitments complicate the situation. He travels abroad again this week and is due to return only shortly before polling day.

He sees himself as an election winner and he may be reluctant to appear as part of a campaign facing defeat, especially should he ever wish to launch a political comeback. One ally predicted that he would not end up doing an in-person campaign event.

The Tories are still trailing Labour by around 20 percentage points in the polls with less than three weeks before the general election on July 4. Some polling analysis suggests they could be left with under 100 MPs.

Mr Sunak, under pressure after months without improvement in the polls, has faced calls from some Tories to “go for the jugular” in attacks on Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader.

The campaign is now also talking up the prospect of a Labour “super-majority” to sway voters back to the Tories. But Mr Sunak has avoided personally talking about that possibility, insisting he can still win the election.

A spokesman for Mr Johnson said: “Boris Johnson has always said ‘vote Conservative’ at every election, and he continues to say that this time.”

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