The Conservative Tees Valley Mayor believes there will be a backlash at the ballot box against his party due to Boris Johnson’s resignation.
Ben Houchen is concerned that voters will not back the Tories at the next election and said it was “blindingly obvious” that Boris Johnson would be more popular with Tory members than other leadership candidates. An Opinium poll published this week found 68% of Conservative members would prefer Mr Johnson to run the country over Rishi Sunak and 63% would prefer him to Liz Truss.
Speaking to The Telegraph’s Planet Normal podcast, Mr Houchen said: “You’re always going to see these three-person polls come out with Boris on top, another reason why I didn’t think we should have got rid of him.
“And also, to be fair, we’ve seen that reflected in places like Teesside. Lots of first time Conservative voters are completely bewildered, confused and actually quite upset that the Conservative Party got rid of Boris.
“Whatever happens, and whoever wins, I do think we will see a backlash as a result of getting rid of Boris…I think we will ultimately be worse off at the general election for not having Boris Johnson.”
It is thought more than 10,000 Tory members have supported a “Back Boris” campaign – organised by Tory donor Lord Cruddas – which wanted to change the rules of the leadership battle so he could join as a candidate in the final round.
After surviving a no-confidence vote in June, the Prime Minister resigned in July after an unprecedented number of resignations from his Cabinet. His downfall came after it was revealed he had appointed Chris Pincher as deputy chief whip – a role responsible for MPs’ welfare – despite knowing about a formal complaint regarding “inappropriate behaviour” against the MP.
Mr Johnson attempted to deny knowledge of the accusation at first but former top Foreign Office civil servant Sir Simon McDonald revealed he had been briefed in person.
The Tees Valley mayor said he was concerned about ousting Mr Johnson during a cost of living crisis. He added: “It just worried me that we’d, in effect, be navel-gazing for a number of weeks, if not months as a Conservative Party, which will feel very out of touch and remote to normal people who’ll be very concerned about everyday living.”
He also claimed that the race, which has seen both camps sharing snipes, was actually “quite mild” and he believed the candidates could be “much more vicious with each other”. Mr Houchen has backed Mr Sunak in the leadership race calling him the “right man for the job”.
Earlier in the campaign, Mr Houchen wrote to the candidates asking them to back his five levelling up pledges over concerns that attention will be diverted away from Teesside. This included a commitment to Northern Powerhouse rail and a better funding deal for the North.
Mr Houchen said that people needed to see levelling up delivered, which meant ensuring “real, demonstrable differences in their local communities”.
The result of the Conservative leadership race will be announced on Monday, September 5