The Conservative Party is “in denial” over the scale of the problems it faces under Boris Johnson’s continued leadership, a senior backbencher has warned.
Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, said the party is on course to lose the next general election unless something changes.
There has been a steady trickle of Tory MPs calling for Mr Johnson to go following the damning report last week by senior civil servant Sue Gray into lockdown parties in Downing Street and Whitehall.
Many are shocked and angry at the picture it painted of a leadership culture which allowed raucous, alcohol-fuelled events to continue at a time when social gatherings were banned.
At the same time, there is unhappiness that Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s latest £21 billion support package for families struggling with the cost-of-living crisis will be part-funded by a windfall tax on the profits of the oil and gas companies – a move many MPs regard as profoundly un-Conservative.
Mr Ellwood, an outspoken critic of Mr Johnson, said the Conservative “brand” is being damaged by the ongoing controversies surrounding the Prime Minister.
“We still seem to be in denial. It’s time to shake off this partisan Stockholm syndrome, I believe,” he told Sky News.
“Our party brand is suffering. We will lose the next election on the current trajectory as reflected in recent elections.
“There is not only just a concern on the conduct of behaviour in Number 10, because that has breached the trust with the British people, it is now concerns about Number 10 thinking what our policies are.”
Mr Ellwood poured scorn on reported plans by Mr Johnson to allow greater use of imperial weights and measures as part of a drive to rebuild support for the party among its traditional base.
“There will be some people in our party which will like this nostalgic policy in the hope that it’s enough to win the next election. But this is not the case. This is not one-nation Conservative thinking that is required to appeal beyond our base,” he said.
Mr Ellwood was heckled in the Commons last week when he called on Mr Johnson to go, but he said the amount of support he has received privately for what he was saying is “really interesting”.
More Tories in recent days have publicly announced that they want a confidence vote in Mr Johnson’s leadership in response to his handling of the revelations about No 10 lockdown parties.
Under party rules Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, will be obliged to order a confidence vote if 54 Tory MPs submit a letter calling for one.
More than 20 MPs have publicly said they want a vote, although it is not clear whether all of them have written to Sir Graham while others may have putting in a letter without declaring it, making the exact numbers hard to know.
Meanwhile, ministers are resisting calls for Ms Gray to reopen her investigation following reports that the Prime Minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, hosted a party in the Downing Street flat on the night of his 56th birthday.
Mr Johnson was fined by police for taking part in a gathering in the Cabinet Room earlier in the day to mark the occasion but there was no mention in Ms Gray’s report of an evening event.
However technology minister Chris Philp insisted there had been a full investigation by both Ms Gray and the Metropolitan Police and that it is time to move on.
“We have had an unbelievably comprehensive set of investigations going on now for a period of nearly six months,” he told Sky News.
“So, having had two separate investigations, including by the police over many months, it is not immediately obvious to me that we need any more investigations when this has probably rightly been the most thoroughly investigated set of incidents in recent times.”