Boris Johnson remains the firm favourite to become the next as Tory leader, as the clock ticks down until Conservative officials tally up party members’ votes before declaring the result next week.
But while the polls indicate a resounding victory for Johnson over rival Jeremy Hunt in the race to become the next prime minister, his campaign has not been without complications. Here are some of the ghosts that have come back to haunt the former foreign secretary.
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The latest story to be dredged up concerns a 1990 phone conversation between Johnson and his friend Darius Guppy, who wanted to take revenge on News of the World reporter Stuart Collier. During the call - which was secretly tapped by one of Guppy’s former accomplices and later leaked to the media - Johnson agrees to help find Collier’s address so that his businessman pal can arrange to have the journalist’s ribs broken.
“In the event, the assault did not occur, while Guppy ended up being jailed for a separate £1.8m fraud and Johnson later dismissed the call as a joke,” says The Guardian.
But Collier is now demanding an apology, and says he thinks it is “disgraceful” that Johnson could become the UK’s next leader.
“Will any of this matter?” asks the Daily Mirror. “Probably not. Many of the 160,000 Conservative members who have a vote in the contest have already cast their ballots – and they adore Mr Johnson.”
All the same, thanks to Collier’s intervention, “we have a greater insight into the man who will be landed on us as our next PM”, the newspaper adds.
The Darroch resignation
Last week, Johnson found himself in the middle of a clash between Donald Trump and the UK’s ambassador to the US, Sir Kim Darroch. The White House refused to work with Darroch after a cache of leaked diplomatic cables showed that he had called the administration “inept” and “dysfunctional”.
Johnson was accused of throwing the ambassador “under a bus” after refusing to say that he would keep him in the job if he became PM. When Darroch subsequently resigned last week, Johnson blamed the unknown leaker, saying they should be “run down, caught and eviscerated”.
Yet despite criticism over his stance, even Hunt supporters admitted that “Tory activists were unlikely to be unduly worried about a high-level diplomatic row”, says the Financial Times, which concludes that the furore should not “obstruct Mr Johnson’s apparently clear route to Downing Street”.
The Carrie row
In June, police were called to the home of Johnson’s girlfriend Carrie Symonds after neighbours heard her shouting at him to “get off me” during a row. Officers later said that no action was taken, as everyone at the address was “safe and well”, but media coverage of the fight and questions about Johnson’s character continued for days, while he refused to comment.
Nevertheless, ITV’s Robert Peston argues that Tory members simply “don’t care” about the potential PM’s allegedly turbulent private life.
“Johnson’s many devotees know that the candidate they simply call ‘Boris’ is always getting into what they see as scrapes,” Peston says. “Worse than that, they see this kind of incident as either a leftie and media conspiracy to undermine their hero, or – if they believe what happened – as proving that he is ‘human’, just like them.”
A knockout blow from Hunt?
Hunt’s team still believes he is closing the gap on Johnson as the pair prepare for a head-to-head debate tonight hosted by The Sun and talkRadio. “Reports suggest votes have been returned slower than expected, sparking suggestions many members have been keen to see how the two candidates perform in the campaign before making up their minds,” says the Daily Express.
Political strategist John McTernan told the newspaper that Hunt would need a “knockout blow” to beat Johnson at this stage, but suggested that the underdog candidate did not have what it takes.
“He has got great strengths, he is very funny, he is very clubbable, he is a nice guy to be around. But you have got to have a bit feral to win,” said McTernan. “There has not been that cunning... to pull the legs from under Johnson. And not just pull the legs from under him but do it in a way that exposes him to the membership.”
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