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Boris Johnson: what next?

Boris Johnson: what next?

A campaign led by businessman and Conservative donor Lord Cruddas to “Bring Back Boris” looks unlikely to succeed, so what might Boris Johnson do next?

When Boris Johnson nominated Peter Cruddas to become a member of the House of Lords, the Appointment Commission that vets candidates unanimously advised against it. 

But Boris Johnson, who isn’t known for playing by the rules, once again broke with tradition and became the first prime minister to ignore its recommendation.

“I, Peter Lord Cruddas, do swear by almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to her majesty the Queen, her heirs and successors, according to law, so help me God.”

Parliament TV

Three days after becoming a member of the House of Lords in 2021, the long-time Conservative donor and former co-treasurer gave half a million pounds to the party.

And perhaps unsurprisingly, Lord Cruddas is now a vocal backer of Boris Johnson, who he’s stuck with through thick and thin. Here he is speaking to LBC in March:

“I back Boris and guess what? I sent the party a quarter of a million pounds six weeks ago. Right at the heart of Partygate. To support the party, to support Boris.”

Lord Cruddas speaking on LBC

That brought the total amount he’s donated to the Conservatives since 2009 to between four and four and a half million pounds. 

And when Boris Johnson was ousted as Conservative Party leader and prime minister, Lord Cruddas wasn’t just going to let it lie.

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Peter Cruddas was made co-treasurer of the Conservative Party in 2011, but was forced to resign less than a year later after the Sunday Times alleged that he was involved in cash for access.

“The headlines and allegations were clear. A Conservative Party treasurer had been filmed by Sunday Times reporters posing as party donors. The paper alleged that he corruptly offered them the chance to influence Tory policy by selling access to David Cameron.”

BBC News

He successfully sued the paper for libel and was awarded £180,000 in damages, but that was later reduced to £50,000 when three judges allowed the paper’s appeal in relation to that central allegation – that in return for cash donations to the Conservative Party, he corruptly offered the opportunity to influence policy and gain unfair advantage through secret meetings with David Cameron and other senior ministers.

Peter Cruddas fell out with the party leadership over the way he felt he was treated when the Sunday Times published its report.

“The Conservative Party, by not giving me support, by not listening to my side of the story and lining up to criticise me in public, just made the whole situation a lot worse.”

Lord Cruddas, BBC News

But he remained a Conservative supporter and when Boris Johnson ran to replace Theresa May as party leader and prime minister he donated money to his campaign.

He’s described the way Boris Johnson was forced to step down as a “coup”… one that “defied the will of the country and the Conservative party members,” which aren’t the kind of words the prime minister would use, in public at least, but he’s certainly made it clear that he thinks.

“I’ve tried to persuade my colleagues that it would be eccentric to change governments when we’re delivering so much and when we have such a vast mandate… but as we’ve seen at Westminster, the herd instinct is powerful, when the herd moves, it moves.”

Boris Johnson speaking outside No 10 in his resignation speech

In his wedding speech last weekend, Boris Johnson reportedly said his removal “was the greatest stitch-up since the Bayeux Tapestry”.

Here’s Tim Montgomerie, a former special adviser to the prime minister, speaking to Times Radio…

“I think there’s still a real state of denial, I think, in Number 10 and around the prime minister, about the nature of, you know, his expulsion from office and he still doesn’t really think he did anything wrong. He still dwells on that massive election victory in 2019.”

Tim Montgomerie, a former special adviser to the prime minister, speaking to Times Radio

And Lord Cruddas has taken that line to the extreme.  

A few weeks after Boris Johnson’s resignation, the pair went for lunch at Chequers, the prime minister’s country house. 

And after that lunch, Lord Cruddas told the Telegraph

“He definitely does not want to resign. He wants to carry on and he believes that, with the membership behind him, he can. He wants to carry on to finish the job. He wants to fight the next general election as leader of the Conservative Party.”

Lord Cruddas claimed they discussed his “bring back Boris” campaign, which is a petition he started calling for a vote of Tory members on whether they accept Boris Johnson’s resignation. 

His claims were denied by Downing Street, which said Boris Johnson doesn’t support the campaign and “respects” the process of the leadership election. 

But Lord Cruddas pressed on anyway.

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Lord Cruddas claims that his petition now has more than 14,000 signatures.

The Conservative Party says it’s checked the names and fewer than half are active Conservative members, but the support for Boris Johnson amongst the party grassroots was clear at a leadership hustings in Leeds when LBC presenter Nick Ferrari questioned Rishi Sunak…

“It’s reported around 14,000 members of the Conservative Party want his name back on the ballot, what would… *clapping from audience*… what would you say to them?”

Nick Ferrari

Boris Johnson and supporters like Lord Cruddas believe that he still has the backing of the majority of party members and many of the voters who helped deliver that huge Conservative majority in 2019.

But it’s likely that the “Bring back Boris” campaign will fail, which means the prime minister will soon become a backbench Conservative MP.

He might even go back to what he did before becoming prime minister – writing a lucrative column for the Daily Telegraph

But whatever he does, it’s clear he’s not going quietly and that he could make life difficult for his successor by holding their feet to the fire on promises made in 2019, and criticising decisions they make.

This episode was written by and mixed by Imy Harper.