Tory MPs gobsmacked by lengths to which frontrunners team is going in attempt to win support
Boris Johnsons campaign to be Britains next prime minister is being organised ruthlessly to limit his media appearances and minimise the potential for gaffes while trying to lovebomb wavering MPs, according to his colleagues.
Conservative MPs say they are gobsmacked by the lengths to which the Johnson camp has been going in an effort to win their support in recent weeks.
The professionalism of his campaign a far cry from his shambolic effort in the aftermath of the EU referendum in 2016 has won him support from unexpected corners, uniting hard Brexiters such as Owen Paterson and Jacob Rees-Mogg with moderates such as the young rising star Johnny Mercer and Damian Collins, who has previously suggested he could support a second EU referendum.
Allies say Johnson is running his campaign from a 3m townhouse on Lord North Street in Westminster from which Iain Duncan Smith masterminded his leadership victory in 2001 and Michael Portillo made a failed tilt at the top job in 1995.
Johnson will launch his campaign formally within days, but for weeks his team have been filling his diary with up to 16 phone calls and one-to-one meetings with MPs each day.
Johnsons team, led by the former MP James Wharton, have been briefing him about each individual MPs concerns. Crucially, they say he is staying on-message and eschewing his usual tendency to resort to crowd-pleasing gags and anecdotes.
MPs close to Johnson say Lynton Crosby, the Australian election guru who helped him to two mayoral victories, is not officially on board the campaign but speaks to Johnson daily on the phone and is a very close friend.
Despite the denials that Cosby is part of the team formally, Johnsons performance so far does bear some of the hallmarks of Crosbys previous campaigns, in which his candidates have sought to avoid the cross-examination of television interviews.
His appearances in the media have been strictly limited to just one interview with Tim Shipman of the Sunday Times, and no daily appearances on broadcast programmes like many of his rivals. Johnson is yet to confirm whether he will appear in a series of television debates being organised by the broadcasters.
Journalists say Wharton hauled the clubbable Johnson away from chatting to them last week in Portcullis House and gave orders to speak to his chief media adviser, Lee Cain, if they wanted to ask him anything.
Instead, the strategy has been to relentlessly target Tory MPs whose votes Johnson needs in order to reach the final shortlist to go before Tory members, making sure his policy advisers follow up on their various concerns ranging from HS2 to schools funding.
One MP involved in the campaign said Johnson was impressing on MPs that he would bring serious organisational brains on board if he reaches Downing Street, including his former mayoral deputy Sir Edward Lister, who would be very much be part of the team. He said there were daily meetings of Johnsons inner circle and a deliberate strategy to keep his media appearances to a minimum at least until he is through the MP rounds.
I am not part of the inner core but I have been absolutely blown away by the organisation that I have witnessed. There are specifically designed work streams and spreadsheets. It is a serious operation. I would say he has definitely learned from last time. Boris is being managed very well, the MP said.