Patrick O’Flynn Patrick O’Flynn

Boris Johnson can’t save the Tories from the coming wipeout

Boris Johnson has opted to take a holiday during the election campaign (Getty images)

Are you beach-body ready? Boris Johnson, who has always projected a joyously uninhibited confidence about his physical form, clearly thinks that he is. The blond bombshell has been basking in Sardinia and is now reported to have a second summer holiday already in the diary which will keep him away from these chilly shores until Wednesday 3 July.

So all the speculation about him helping the Tories out on the campaign trail, being a secret vote-winning weapon and reaching the parts that Rishi Sunak cannot reach, turns out to have been nonsense: he hasn’t offered and he wasn’t asked. Seldom have so many column inches been expended so pointlessly.

Boris Johnson on holiday with his family in Sardinia (Credit: Instagram/ Carrie Johnson)

Perhaps there will yet be time for a photo opportunity of a beaming Johnson helping the get-out-the-vote operation on election morning near his manor house in deepest Oxfordshire. But that will be it. 

The Tories have already given up on Red Wall seats where Boris is popular

Tellingly, the Times reports that Team Sunak has decided any joint appearances with Johnson would do more harm than good because they have already given up on Red Wall seats where he is popular and are now just trying to save Blue Wall ones where he is less so.

“This is not a campaign that is looking to win seats in the Red Wall. This is a fight for survival. If you look at the seats we’re targeting they don’t have Boris Johnson supporters,’ a Tory strategist is quoted as saying.

Glancing at the front pages of what we once called ‘the Tory press’ underlines the point. The Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Telegraph and Times all carry page one tax scare stories about Labour. The final segment of this election campaign is going to see the Tories relentlessly stoke worries among the already-prosperous that Labour will confiscate their money.

The potentially epoch-making electoral realignment the Tories were gifted with in 2019 – largely thanks to a Brexit project most of them never wanted to undertake – has been reduced to ashes in a single term.

And though traces are said to remain of public affection for Johnson in rugby league towns along the M62 corridor and down into the working-class East Midlands, he is as much to blame as anyone for the great lost opportunity. And that isn’t primarily down to ‘lockdown parties’ either.

Upon firing Dominic Cummings at the end of 2020, he was left with a big strategic choice about the future direction of his premiership: deliver the draconian immigration controls that his new electorate yearned for or find an alternative mission that might be more acceptable in polite society.

He chose the latter course, using the fact that Britain was due to host the G7 summit in Cornwall in June 2021 and then the Cop 26 climate summit in Glasgow in the autumn as a springboard to go gaga for Gaia. And all the people who were never going to vote for him anyway were suitably unimpressed, just branding every cripplingly-expensive environmental measure he saddled the country with as too little, too late.

The immigration regime was meanwhile further relaxed rather than tightened, trebling the net inflow, while his 2019 message to those arriving illegally in dinghies – ‘we will send you back’ – remained so much flannel.

Had he still been prime minister then probably the old campaigning flair would have had his party ten points higher in the polls and Nigel Farage would only be eating half the Tory lunch rather than all of it.

But the realignment would still have been on an ebb tide, turned backwards by immigration betrayal and chancellor Sunak’s novel approach to levelling-up: making sure that Tunbridge Wells didn’t lose out to ‘deprived urban areas’.

The Tories are falling back to the lush surroundings of the great boarding schools from whence they came – Home Counties West and South. When the ball next pops out at the back of the scrum, it will most assuredly be a union and not a league one. And neither Johnson nor Sunak will be in any position to pick it up.