Dark Money Investigations: Investigation

Where’s Boris?

Tory candidates in top target seats are avoiding showing the PM’s face, openDemocracy research reveals. Why?

Adam Ramsay
Adam Ramsay
22 November 2019

Conservative candidates in key marginal seats appear to be keeping Boris Johnson firmly off their leaflets, openDemocracy can reveal.

Johnson won a series of endorsements during the party’s leadership contest this summer due to his supposed popularity with the public. However, an analysis of leaflets from marginal constituencies across the UK shows that Johnson’s face and name are notable by their absence.

Content on campaign leaflets varies across the country – some focussing on delivering the Brexit result, others attacking Corbyn or the SNP, and a few even highlight Conservative party policies, including more police.

But the absence or minimal use of the prime minister is the most notable trend we’ve spotted in Tory campaign materials so far.

The below isn’t scientific. We’ve drawn evidence so far from Angus, Bristol North West, Cardiff North, Crewe and Nantwich, Filton and Bradley Stoke, Richmond Park, and Stroud. There may be copies of leaflets we haven’t seen in these places, and there will, of course, be more to come. But it does give a flavour of how candidates and their campaign managers see their leader.

Missing in Action

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Tory leaflet in Angus

In the Scottish marginal constituency of Angus, the party preferred to use the image of former Scottish leader Ruth Davidson to that of the current UK prime minister, while the campaign website makes no reference to Johnson on its homepage.

In Bristol North West, the Tories’ campaign leaflets and website are focussed firmly on their local candidate, with ‘election winner’ Boris Johnson nowhere to be seen.

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Tory leaflet, Bristol North West

In the Welsh marginal of Cardiff North, Conservative candidate Mo Ali not only fails to name his party leader, but also seems reticent to mention the party he’s representing.

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Tory leaflet, Cardiff North

The homepage of his website similarly fails to make any reference to the party leader.

In 2017, the local Tories did use an image of Theresa May in their election publicity. But they seem to have decided that Johnson doesn’t help their cause.

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Tory leaflet, Cardiff North, 2017

In the key marginal of Crewe and Nantwich – the sort of Leave voting, northern seat vital to Johnson’s victory, the incumbent prime minister’s image is nowhere to be seen (though he did make a campaign visit to the constituency).

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Tory leaflet, Crewe and Nantwich

Zac Goldsmith is hoping to cling on against the Lib Dems in Richmond Park. Back in 2015, David Cameron was highly visible in Goldsmith’s election propaganda.

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Tory leaflet, Richmond Park, 2015

The new boss, less so.

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Tory leaflet, Richmond Park, 2019

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Tory leaflet, Richmond Park, 2019

There is one exception in the leaflets we’ve examined. The Tory candidate in Filton and Bradley Stoke, Jack Lopresti, was the MP until the election was called. In the leadership election, he backed Boris Johnson, saying that he could “unite our party, our country, and deliver Brexit by October 31st”.

While Johnson doesn’t make an appearance on Lopresti’s website, he does appear on at least one of his leaflets.

Who's getting rich from COVID-19?

Boris Johnson's government stands accused of 'COVID cronyism', after handing out staggering sums of money to controversial private firms to fight COVID-19. Often the terms of these deals are kept secret, with no value-for-money checks or penalties for repeated failures which cost lives. And many major contracts have gone directly to key Tory donors and allies – without competition.

As COVID rates across the country surge, how can we hold our leaders accountable? Meet the lawyers, journalists and politicians leading the charge in our free live discussion on Thursday 1 October at 5pm UK time.

Hear from:

Peter Geoghegan Investigations editor, openDemocracy, and author of 'Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics'

Jolyon Maugham Barrister and founder of the Good Law Project.

Layla Moran Liberal Democrat MP (TBC)

Chair: Mary Fitzgerald Editor-in-chief of openDemocracy

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