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Boris Johnson is back on the campaign trail, but will it really help the Tories?

Former prime minister Boris Johnson delivered one of the shocks of the election campaign as he appeared as the surprise guest of his successor-bar-one Rishi Sunak at a rally on Tuesday night.

His message to Tory supporters was not to give up hope in the final days of the campaign, warning that Sir Keir Starmer would “achieve nothing in this election except to usher in the most left-wing government since the war with a huge majority”.

In keeping with the setting of the speech – the National Army Museum – he also went in heavily on Labour’s record on defence and national security, urging the country not to “let the Putinistas deliver the Corbynistas”.

“Don’t let Putin’s pet parrots give this entire country psittacosis – which is a disease you get, by the way, from cosying up to pet parrots,” Mr Johnson told the crowd in his signature flamboyant style.

Returning to the stage after Mr Johnson, the Prime Minister said that it was “great to have our Conservative family united”, but that didn’t feel like the real message of the ex-prime minister’s 11th-hour cameo.

In his speech, Mr Johnson only mentioned the Prime Minister once, when he thanked Mr Sunak for asking him to come. He has hardly appeared on the campaign trail in this election, though he has issued several video endorsements for candidates and written multiple newspaper opinion pieces.

He was also pictured leaving the event before Mr Sunak had finished speaking. As one journalist present observed, Mr Johnson was greeted by chants of “Boris” when he took to the stage, but attempts to start similar chants of “Rishi” after he left were not successful.

It’s worth remembering that it was just two years ago that Mr Sunak dramatically resigned as Chancellor amid anger over Mr Johnson’s response to sexual misconduct allegations regarding one of his ministers. His departure triggered the wave of ministerial resignations that ultimately pushed Mr Johnson out of No 10.

The stain of partygate also still hangs over Mr Johnson after a parliamentary report found he had deliberately misled the Commons over the scandal, and questions were raised about the culture under him in No 10 during the pandemic following evidence to the Covid inquiry.

With all this in mind, it’s no surprise that Mr Johnson is hardly more popular with the public than Mr Sunak, with a recent YouGov poll suggesting around three-quarters of the public (72 per cent for Mr Johnson, 75 per cent for Mr Sunak) had an unfavourable view of them.

Every major poll is predicting a Labour victory in this week’s general election, and it is highly unlikely that there is anything that the Conservatives can do at this stage to secure another term in power.

Instead, much of the party’s campaign has appeared to be focused on avoiding a total wipeout as the rise of Reform UK under Nigel Farage eats into the Tory vote share nationwide. Much of its campaign material has warned that voting for Reform is the surest way to bring in a Labour government.

This could be one reason why the Prime Minister asked Mr Johnson – who ran his 2019 election campaign on the slogan “Get Brexit Done” – to speak. The party’s main hope now is to get Reform voters, many of whom likely share Farage’s Eurosceptic views, back onside.

But even in this regard, Mr Johnson may not have been their best bet. Another recent YouGov poll looking at the views of Reform voters found that they were less likely to be fans of him than their Tory counterparts, with 45 per cent having a favourable view of him compared to 64 per cent of Conservative voters.

This is before voters in some crucial Lib Dem-Tory marginals are considered, with 79 per cent of Lib Dem voters believing it was the right thing for Mr Johnson to be removed as Prime Minister.

The best thing that Mr Johnson may have been able to give the Tory campaign is some motivation for its despondent traditional voters to head out to the polls on Thursday – and a final morale boost for a party braced for one of the worst nights in its history.

Election 2024

The general election campaign is almost at an end as polling day looms on 4 July. Rishi Sunak, Sir Keir Starmer and other party leaders have battled to win votes over six weeks, and i‘s election live blog has covered it from the first moment.

Every party’s manifesto is out, with Tories, Green Party, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Reform UK sharing why they should get your vote. Read i‘s manifesto comparison on each of the main party’s pledges on issues such as NHS, education, defence, devolution, tax, spending, HS2 and housing.

You can read the polls, check which constituencies could be deciders, ensure you’re informed about who to vote for, and make sure you’re weather-ready before you head to your polling station on Thursday.

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