Tory candidates beg voters: back me, not Sunak

Rishi Sunak has become so unpopular that many Tory candidates are deliberately keeping him off their leaflets and telling voters they are “different to the prime minister.”

An investigation by The Independent has revealed the scale of Conservative candidates rejecting their own leader in a desperate bid to get elected when polling opens on 4 July.

The gambling scandal and the D-Day fiasco, when he left the commemorations early in Normandy, appear to have sealed Mr Sunak’s reputation as a vote loser with his candidates.

Redfield and Wilton Strategies earlier this month found Mr Sunak’s approval rating with all voters had fallen to minus 27, the lowest the polling firm has ever recorded for him as either prime minister or chancellor.

Rishi Sunak has been excluded from many Tory leaflets by candidates (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)
Rishi Sunak has been excluded from many Tory leaflets by candidates (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

A dozen candidates have confirmed that at the doorstep they emphasise that they are different to the prime minister.

“I’m not Rishi Sunak - you are voting for me, not him,” one MP seeking to get reelected told The Independent reflecting the views of a number of others.

Jade Marsden, the Conservative candidate for Runcorn and Helsby County, stated on X (formerly Twitter): “My message - you aren’t voting for leader of a party, you’re voting for a person to stand up for your priorities in your local area.”

Similarly, Rose Hulse, candidate for Bristol North East, implored followers on X to “Please be open minded and find competent people to vote in regardless of their party”.

She reiterated her point, saying: “People should vote for the person and not the colour of one’s party. The only way to have the best government is to put competent people in government across all party lines.”

While many Tory candidates do not want to go on the record about their attempts to distance themselves from Mr Sunak, many leaflets tell the story of how they are trying to keep him out of their local fights.

Dame Andrea Jenkyns, who is trying to hold on to Leeds South West and Morley, issued a leaflet featuring Reform UK leader Nigel Farage, Reform chairman Richard Tice, Reclaim leader Laurence Fox, and former Tory prime ministers Boris Johnson and Lord Cameron but not Mr Sunak.

Johnny Mercer, minister for veterans, attempted to rebrand his “Vote Johnny Mercer” posters as proof he was “fighting to represent you in Westminster” rather than a party.

Greg Hands, who served as Party Chairman until October 2023, has delivered leaflets with no Conservative branding - calling for constituents to use their “local vote” for a “local voice”.

Hands’ leaflet uses the word local no less than 16 times. Key national campaign leaflets - called “free posts”, as they receive government-funded free postage - have begun to be posted through doors this week.

These leaflets in marginal seats, such as Simon Fell’s in Barrow and Furness, are equally ambiguous, with no Conservative branding, promoting a local champion, rather than a party platform.

Several candidates including Alexander Stafford have gone as far as to register themselves as “Local Conservatives” on the ballot paper.

Conservative Party candidates can legally use this title - it was registered as an alternative affiliation in 2019 by the Conservative Campaign Headquarters instead of “Conservative and Unionist Party”.

The Independent has approached the Conservatives for comment.