Tory MPs are preparing for the loss of hundreds of seats in local elections

Conservative MPs are preparing for the loss of hundreds of seats in next week’s local elections, after spending the weekend hearing voters on the doorstep lament Boris Johnson’s leadership.

Some Tory MPs believe a poor set of results on May 5 could be the trigger for a vote of confidence in the prime minister, who now has three separate investigations into the partygate case pending.

A northern Conservative MP said he expected the party to lose 750 seats next week, while another from the south said he feared the party would suffer when Tory voters stayed home in droves.

A ConservativeHome poll published Sunday showed that 58 percent of Tory members believe the partygate scandal was exaggerated by the media and was not important to voters.

But a wealthy Tory MP said: “Partygate is still coming up the doorstep. People are raising the prime minister’s leadership. My fear is that they will simply stay home.” He also predicted the loss of hundreds of council seats.

Another Conservative MP critical of Johnson said: “People will come after him after the election. He is an existential threat to the Conservative Party and to democracy.”

Johnson, who has been fined for a party in Downing Street for his June 2020 birthday that broke the Covid rules, faces the possibility of more police fines due to his participation in other lockdown gatherings in Downing Street. He is also facing a new inquiry from MPs into whether he deliberately misled Parliament on the issue.

He is also expected to receive a judgmental assessment of his leadership from Sue Gray, the senior official accused of investigating the partygate affair, whose full report has not yet been released.

A Whitehall official who has been working on the Gray inquiry described its content as “bad” for the prime minister. “There’s not much that goes without saying that the Prime Minister’s leadership is bad, and Sue has been very critical of it,” the person said.

Another person with knowledge of the situation said that whether the criticism would prove to be terminal for Johnson was “subjective”. The official added: “Under normal circumstances, it would be difficult to see how the Prime Minister could proceed. But this Prime Minister is very different.”

Gray published a brief draft of his report in February before the Metropolitan Police opened its investigation, Operation Hillman, in partygate. Once the latter is completed, Gray will complete his report and Downing Street has said it will be published.

An ally of Gray said there was “no indication of timing” as to when it would be released. “We are completely in the hands of the Met, and they have not been completely communicative throughout this process.”

A Tory backbencher said: “Partygate has not disappeared in any way and has the potential to flare up again. The local elections will be a trigger point for dissatisfied MPs.”

A former minister said: “Many people are holding back.” He said things could come to a head in the summer after the May 5 election, the conclusion of the Met Police investigation and the publication of the Gray report.

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