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Conservative by-election campaign ads ‘don’t mention Boris Johnson’

Conservative by-election campaign ads ‘don’t mention Boris Johnson’
Candidates appear to be distancing themselves from the prime minister

Conservative campaign leaflets and advertisements relating to the forthcoming by-elections in Devon and West Yorkshire are reported to omit any mention of Boris Johnson.

A pamphlet distributed by Helen Hurford, the Tory candidate in Tiverton and Honiton, makes no reference to her party on its cover.

The Telegraph reported that inside the pamphlet, the Conservative Party is not mentioned until page four, while the prime minister is not mentioned at all.

A pamphlet distributed by Nadeem Ahmed, the Tory candidate in Wakefield, also makes no reference to Mr Johnson and contains no photos of him, the paper said.

It also said that six Facebook advertisements shared by Ms Hurford do not mention the prime minister, and only refer to the Tory party to declare it as the source of funding.

The prime minister’s reputation in the wake of the Partygate scandal has haunted the two by-election campaigns so far.

Ms Hurford was booed by a crowd at a constituency hustings on Thursday after sidestepping a question about Mr Johnson’s moral character. She also declined to say if he was honest during an interview with The Guardian last week. “I think Boris thinks that he is an honest person,” she said.

When asked by the Telegraph if she was a “Boris Johnson Conservative”, she said: “I’m a Helen Hurford Conservative.”

In Wakefield, the Labour Party said its most successful advert of the campaign had been one that referred to the recent vote of confidence in Mr Johnson, in which 40 per cent of his own MPs voted against him.

It comes as Tory MPs have warned that defeats in the two by-elections this Thursday would further damage Mr Johnson’s authority as leader.

MPs from across the party told The Independent they were privately expecting a “big defeat” in Wakefield, where a recent poll by JL Partners put Labour 20 points ahead.

A senior Tory MP said the loss of Tiverton and Honiton, where the party has a large majority, “would be a disaster”.

Voters head to the polls in Yorkshire and Devon less than two weeks after the prime minister narrowly survived a confidence vote, which was called following an investigation into whether he had misled parliament over his knowledge of parties in Downing Street during lockdown.

Ms Hurford refused to say which side she would have taken in the confidence vote, calling the question “irrelevant”.

The Tiverton and Honiton candidate is defending a 24,239 majority, which would require a swing to the Liberal Democrats of more than 20 points in order to be overturned. The Conservatives, however, fear that the loss of the Devon seat is likely.

A senior MP said that most of his colleagues were expecting a Lib Dem victory. “Look at North Shropshire. It’s a further opportunity for people to send a message to Downing Street that they are not happy,” he warned.

The same MP said Wakefield was “gone, gone, gone”. Speaking to The Independent, polling expert Professor Sir John Curtice agreed, suggesting the party’s 3,358 majority was a “write-off”.

He said the seat would be “very difficult for any government to defend”, and that “it doesn’t matter if it’s red wall, blue wall, pink wall, or purple wall, you only need a 3.5 per cent swing”. He added: “It should be inconceivable that the government hangs on to it.”