Tory leadership hopeful Boris Johnson has been targeted by a ‘dirty tricks’ campaign about his girlfriend Carrie Symonds
Boris Johnson has been targeted by a ‘dirty tricks’ campaign, with his political enemies spreading unsubstantiated rumours about his private life after his bust-up with girlfriend Carrie Symonds.
With Mr Johnson commanding a seemingly impregnable lead among Tory members – despite sinking in polls of the wider electorate – rivals have spent the past week making increasingly wild claims about the conduct of his personal affairs.
One senior Westminster figure claimed to The Mail on Sunday last week that on the recording of the couple’s heated argument which neighbours passed to the Guardian newspaper, Ms Symonds could be heard making allegations about a romantic friendship between Mr Johnson and a member of Commons staff.
The senior figure – who is not part of Jeremy Hunt’s leadership campaign – said Ms Symonds had threatened the newspaper with an injunction to stop that claim from emerging.
But a source with close knowledge of the argument dismissed the smear, saying: ‘Everything on that recording has been reported.’ And a supporter of Mr Johnson said the Commons affair claim was ‘completely bogus’.
The claim was just one of a welter of allegations – many of a sexual nature – which have been swirling around Westminster in the days since police were called to the South London flat which Mr Johnson shares with Ms Symonds.
His private life was raised at a leadership hustings in Carlisle yesterday, when he was asked by a Tory member: ‘With a chequered private life, can we trust you with the great lady Britannia?’ Mr Johnson replied: ‘Every time I was asked to deliver something in London, I over delivered on my promises.’
A senior Westminster figure claimed Ms Symonds could be heard making allegations about a romantic friendship between Mr Johnson and a member of Commons staff during a row at their house (pictured)
He was also teased over reports that his row with Ms Symonds erupted after he spilt red wine on her sofa, with one Tory member warning him to lay off the wine. The leadership favourite replied: ‘It is important not to spill a drop.’
But while the chaotic start to Mr Johnson’s campaign has damaged his poll ratings among the electorate, it has barely dented his support among the Tory faithful.
With six days until ballot papers start landing on the doormats of the party’s 160,000 members, a YouGov poll yesterday confirmed the findings of last weekend’s Mail on Sunday survey by putting Mr Hunt (41 per cent) ahead of Mr Johnson (29 per cent) as the public’s preferred choice to be the next Prime Minister. But Mr Johnson retains the support of two thirds of party members.
The widening gulf between his backing in the party and in the country as a whole has led to concerns that Mr Johnson’s expected victory – handed to him by a tiny proportion of the electorate – will lack ‘legitimacy’ and dent party hopes that he will prove to be a natural Election winner.
Jeremy Hunt is the public’s preferred choice to be the next Prime Minister but Boris Johnson retains the support of two thirds of party members
MPs have also been alarmed by signs that the team of advisers around Mr Johnson, many of whom will follow him into Downing Street, has been fractured by feuding. They worry that aides and friends who have gathered around Ms Symonds, 31, have effectively set up an independent operation outside of Mr Johnson’s formal team.
Yesterday, Mr Johnson took aim at Theresa May’s leadership style.
Hoaxer touts Boris video for £1,200
A known hoaxer has been touting a video of a fashion blogger making claims of an unsubstantiated affair with Boris Johnson.
Nimrod Kamer, 34, sent journalists a video of Bipasha ‘Bip’ Ling, 30, claiming a ‘romance’ – but which seems to be a stunt to boost the profile of the social media ‘influencer’.
The pair attempted to sell her ‘story’ for £1,200 but this newspaper found no evidence to support her claims that he stayed the night at her South London flat in June.
She could not provide phone messages, saying her phone was damaged, but claimed Mr Johnson sent her a model of a London bus and left a pair of his socks at her flat.
Rumours of an affair started with a tweet last Monday that said: ‘Bip Ling X Boris Johnson. If you know you know.’ The account which posted it was only set up this month and made no other tweets.
In 2012, Kamer gained notoriety after producing a joke fake video purporting to show Barack Obama’s birth in Kenya. Last night he insisted Miss Ling stands by her claims.
He mocked Mrs May’s favourite cricketer, the defensive Geoffrey Boycott, saying it was time for the flamboyant Ian Botham instead.
When asked if the UK will get the ‘100 per cent full-on Boris as Prime Minister’ or whether he will feel constrained in Downing Street, Mr Johnson said: ‘I think that there is one way to do this thing now. If I may venture a cricketing metaphor, I think we’ve had quite a lot of Boycott on the wicket and it is time for Botham to come in.
‘Particularly in the EU negotiations, we cannot have the same old, same old. We cannot have a can-kicking approach. We kick the can, we will kick the bucket – we’ve got to get on and do this.’ Mr Hunt also went on the offensive yesterday in an attempt to gain the initiative in the leadership race by describing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as a ‘crocodile lurking under the surface of British politics’.
Speaking before the hustings in Carlisle, the Foreign Secretary warned that the Conservative Party would be punished by the electorate if they faced a General Election before Brexit.
‘We cannot go back to the people and ask for another mandate until we have delivered the mandate that they gave us last time,’ he said.
‘If we forget that, we forget the lessons of the local elections, the European elections, the Peterborough by-election… who comes through the middle? It’s Labour.
‘If we ignore that, we ignore the crocodile lurking under the surface of British politics which is a Labour Party led by the most ruthless, dangerous, anti-Western, anti-British, hard-Left cabal we have ever seen in British politics, under Jeremy Corbyn. We must not let him in.’
Hunt under attack over use of grace and favour flat as his HQ
Jeremy Hunt is under fire for using his grace and favour townhouse in his bid for No 10
Jeremy Hunt is under fire for using his grace-and-favour townhouse to help his bid for No 10.
Mr Hunt has posed in the staterooms of his taxpayer-funded official residence as Foreign Secretary – 1 Carlton Gardens – for social-media campaign stunts. But the Ministerial Code – the strict rulebook for Cabinet Ministers – states: ‘Official facilities and resources may not be used for the dissemination of material which is essentially party political.’
On Tuesday Mr Hunt posted pictures of himself in a Twitter question-and-answer session – in which he attacked leadership rival Boris Johnson – that took place inside the Grade I-listed building in Central London. He has also posted pictures of his campaign staff working there.
Last night a Labour Party spokesman said: ‘This is another example of people from privileged backgrounds and with a sense of entitlement thinking that rules should only apply to others.’ Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office Jon Trickett added: ‘Both candidates are from and for a small elite who think the rules don’t apply to them.’
And a Taxpayers’ Alliance spokesman said: ‘If this is a breach of the ministerial code, then an apology and perhaps compensation for the use of these premises may be necessary. Rules exist for a reason – to protect taxpayers from being robbed.’
Last night Mr Hunt’s team insisted: ‘The rules are absolutely clear that this activity is permitted.’
Gove’s Jeremy blow
Michael Gove has resisted backing Jeremy Hunt to be the next Prime Ministser
Michael Gove has refused to endorse Jeremy Hunt to be the next Prime Minister in a major setback for the Foreign Secretary.
Despite ‘repeated wooing’ by Mr Hunt, Mr Gove has resisted backing either candidate, insisting he will sit the rest of the contest out for the sake of party unity.
His silence is a blow to Mr Hunt, who had been determined to secure the backing of the prominent Brexiteer, who was the last to be knocked out of the race.
Mr Hunt had been confident the Environment Secretary would not throw his weight behind rival Boris Johnson after spectacularly derailing his 2016 leadership bid.
The Mail on Sunday understands Mr Gove told Mr Hunt on the phone early last week that he would not be endorsing him, and this point was stressed again on Thursday morning at a meeting between their aides, when a fresh overture was made.
Last night, a source close to Mr Gove told this newspaper: ‘Michael thinks both candidates would be good Prime Ministers. He isn’t planning to endorse either candidate. Party unity was at the heart of his leadership campaign and he believes it is vital the party comes back together after the contest whoever wins.’
But a supporter of Mr Hunt hit back: ‘It is clear Michael thinks Boris is going to win and wants to keep his job – but not even he is brazen enough to endorse him after their three-year psychodrama.’