Boris Johnson will “absolutely” remain as the Conservatives’ leader after the local elections – even if the results are disappointing for the party, Kwasi Kwarteng has said.
The business secretary told Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday programme that Mr Johnson’s leadership is not under threat “at all”, adding that he is “the right man by far to lead us into the next election”.
Many voters in England, Wales and Scotland will head to the polls on 5 May to elect their local representatives.
With a vast number of seats being contested, the results are likely to paint a vivid picture of the national mood for the first time since the 2019 snap general election.
If the Conservatives perform poorly in these elections, Mr Johnson’s premiership could be under even more strain following the partygate scandal – with a potential leadership challenge closer to being triggered.
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“I don’t think his leadership is at threat at all, what he’s delivered is really a remarkable series of successes,” Mr Kwarteng said.
“I think Brexit, he delivered on that, the fact he was very widely appreciated in Ukraine, he’s been widely hailed as someone who has led the overseas effort to help Ukraine, and also look at the vaccine rollout, that was a great bit of success.”
PM ‘the right man’ to lead the Conservatives
Pressed on whether Mr Johnson is safe no matter what happens at the polls, he replied “absolutely”.
Asked about suggestions former health secretary Jeremy Hunt is preparing a leadership bid, Mr Kwarteng said: “Jeremy is a very capable colleague, he’s a good friend, I don’t know what he’s up to but as far as I’m concerned Boris Johnson is the right man by far to lead us into the next election.”
His comments came as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer denied that Labour has a secret electoral pact with the Liberal Democrats to try and ensure Conservative candidates are not selected in the upcoming polls.
Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden had claimed Sir Keir was standing down candidates “in swathes of the country” where Liberal Democrat support is strong to avoid splitting the anti-Tory vote.
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He had also alleged that the Liberal Democrats had agreed to return the favour where Labour is dominant elsewhere.
Asked about the claims made by Mr Dowden regarding the alleged pact, the Labour leader told Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday programme: “I wouldn’t take anything Oliver Dowden says particularly seriously.
“The fact that he is spending his Sunday… attacking Labour… why doesn’t he say something about the cost-of-living crisis for heaven’s sake?
“There is no pact, everybody knows there is no pact. We will put a candidate up when there is a by-election, obviously after the Neil Parish resignation of yesterday.”
Labour and Lib Dems denying elections pact
He later claimed Labour is standing more candidates than ever in the local elections.
Meanwhile, Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey also vehemently denied claims of a pact between his party and Labour.
“Listen, there’s no pact now, there’s not going to be a pact in the future,” he told Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday programme.
“No, Liberal Democrats are actually fighting Labour in many areas, in polls in Sunderland, in Sheffield, in Haringey, in Suffolk.
“And I can tell you many other places where there’s a a real fight.”
He added that he believes reports of a pact are being used as “a bit of a distraction”.
Polls in 200 local authorities across Britain open on Thursday, in a chance for voters to register their disapproval, or their support.
Sir Keir will also be under pressure, as a failure to make inroads will lead to questions over his ability to deliver Labour back to power.
Mr Johnson will hope voters prioritise his perceived successes, such as the vaccine rollout and Brexit, rather than the lockdown breaches and tax hikes amid a cost of living crisis.
Main party leaders under pressure ahead of polls
In a statement released ahead of the polls, the PM said: “The elections next Thursday matter. People are voting for councillors and councils who decide how often bins are collected, how many potholes are repaired and how much council tax is paid.
“And I have to tell you that its hardworking Conservative councillors and councils across the country who deliver better local services while managing taxpayers’ money wisely.
“The choice on 5 May is clear. Labour and Lib Dems who fritter away your council tax on deciding which statues to tear down, or Conservatives, delivering value for money and delivering on your local priorities.”
Meanwhile, Sir Keir told Sky News that his party’s focus is on “making gains” in the upcoming elections – and accused the government of “not having a plan” to tackle the cost of living crisis.
“We want to make gains, we want to hold the good seats that we’ve got, we want to make gains,” the Labour leader said.
He added: “We’ve got wind in our sails, we are a confident team.“
The local election results are expected in the early hours and throughout the day on Friday, with some councils also likely to declare on Saturday.