A cabinet minister has urged Tory MPs not to act against Boris Johnson after the party’s deadly local election results, as a critic of the PM says questions over his leadership ‘need to be brought to the attention “.
After the Tories lost nearly 500 seats and control of 11 councils, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi called for party unity on Saturday, arguing that Johnson remained a vote winner.
He told Sky News: “He’s an asset, absolutely… if you look at the way Boris travels through places like Nuneaton, places like Newcastle-under-Lyme, other parts of the country as well – Harrow in London .”
Zahawi added: “People don’t like to vote for split parties, for split teams. We are stronger when we are united and that would be my message to all my colleagues.
When asked if he thought the Prime Minister was a ‘man of integrity’ on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Zahawi said Johnson was ‘not just a man of integrity, but a working man all day to serve the nation”.
In major local election blows for the Tories, Labor took over the leading London Tory councils in Westminster, Wandsworth and Barnet.
The party also recorded its worst position in Scotland for a decade and lost control of its only council in Wales, Monmouthshire, to Labour.
The results have reignited criticism in some quarters of Johnson’s leadership, with speculation that his job as prime minister could be in jeopardy.
Some Tories have expressed frustration that activities at No 10 have caused ardent supporters to ‘sit on their hands’ or vote against the party, with Partygate regularly mentioned at the door.
There was fresh criticism on Saturday from a Tory backbench critic of the Prime Minister, Aaron Bell, who said talks were needed over the future direction of the Tory party.
Bell, who has already submitted a letter of censure to Johnson, told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that around one in six ‘traditional Conservative voters’ he met when canvassing ‘had a real problem’ with Partygate.
“There were people who said they were going to sit on their hands and stay home and probably even people who voted against us. So obviously it’s something we have to settle, something we have to win back. »
Fifty-four letters must be sent to the Chairman of the 1922 Backbench Committee, Sir Graham Brady, for a vote of no confidence to be called.
Bell added: “My position in terms of putting my letter to Sir Graham Brady has not changed. It’s not really for me to decide, it’s for my colleagues to decide and I’m sure when we come back to Westminster there will be a discussion about this.
“What I think is that it needs to be tested as soon as possible because I don’t think we can continue to have this problem for many months to come, with the Metropolitan Police and Sue Gray, then the Privileges Committee.
John Mallinson, the Conservative leader of Carlisle City Council, told the BBC he had ‘lost some very good colleagues’ in the Cumberland local elections, adding that he had found it ‘difficult to bring the debate back to local issues ” during his campaign, because of Partygate and the cost of living crisis.
He said Johnson would be a “bad option” to lead the Tories in the next general election.