A veteran political strategist who used to work for Boris Johnson has been calling the top Conservatives who currently support Rishi Sunak to persuade them to back Liz Truss for prime minister.
Mark Fullbrook, who successfully spearheaded the prime minister’s leadership bid in 2019, has played a key role in the foreign secretary’s bid to win over more high-profile Conservative MPs to cement his front-runner status.
Truss’s campaign sources confirmed that the chief aide had had “lengthy talks” with potential high-profile shifters and claimed that “more than one is reeling”, but added that there were “not dozens” of MPs who were about to to come.
Conservative sources told The Guardian that at least one senior minister currently backing the former chancellor was considering publicly endorsing Truss despite only having two full weeks left in the contest.
Sunak led the final round of MPs’ voting with 137 backing, while Truss came second with 113 votes, narrowly edging out early favorite Penny Mordaunt with 105 supporters. However, polls have consistently suggested that the foreign secretary is far ahead among party members.
Secretary for Wales Sir Robert Buckland last weekend became the first cabinet minister to publicly switch his support for the Tory leadership from Sunak to Truss, citing his emphasis on the economy as one of the main reasons for his defection. .
Days later, Alun Cairns, who served as Wales secretary for three years under David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson, announced he would no longer back Sunak as he felt Truss had the best chance of securing the union’s future.
Universities minister Chris Skidmore, who co-authored the controversial book Britannia Unchained with Truss in 2012, has also switched sides.
A Truss campaign source said: “Mark has done a lot of this, particularly speaking to senior MPs, but others in the campaign have also been involved.”
However, they denied suggestions that politicians have been offered jobs in a new Truss government or any other incentive to defect. “There has been no job offered. It’s definitely been about the positives of joining Liz’s team. There are no threats, we are not Gavin Williamson,” they added.
A senior MP who is a Sunak supporter told The Guardian that Truss’s team had contacted them, in an attempt to get them to switch allegiances, but to no avail.
One Tory who was called up by Team Truss said: “Any MP who changes sides will have their reputation in parliament shattered in an instant and find themselves walking past colleagues who would rather look at their shoes than give them the time of day.”
One minister added: “This approach was used from the beginning for high-profile figures and jobs were offered, but surely my colleagues must now realize that there are more hopeful people than jobs.”
Other MPs who support the former chancellor said they had not received any contact from the Truss campaign. “I guess they think I’m too pro-Rishi so it’s not even worth the effort,” said one.
Another added: “No one has tried to call me but I’m not a senior Tory and I’m probably on a list marked ‘not to convert’.”
The suggestion that there could be more defections has gone down badly with Sunak’s campaign team. One insider said: “Those who change do so purely for their own careers and have no character. No one forgets a changer and it tends to end badly for them.”
Conservative MPs also told The Guardian that some backbench colleagues who support Sunak had now backed Truss after being threatened with deselection by electoral parties supporting the Foreign Secretary.
Fullbrook is an electoral consultant who was previously a business partner of veteran Australian strategist Lynton Crosby, but now runs his own business.
Renowned for his knowledge of the Conservative Party and its members, he first worked with the Conservatives in 1992 and helped lead Johnson’s 2012 re-election as Mayor of London.
Fullbrook was also heavily involved in Zac Goldsmith’s unsuccessful bid for mayor of London in 2016, a campaign that was criticized for using racist tropes against the winner, Labor’s Sadiq Khan.
It came as polling expert Sir John Curtice said neither leadership candidate was likely to give the Tory party the “bounce” it received when Boris Johnson became prime minister.
“Frankly, the survey doesn’t suggest that any one of them doing it is going to make that much of a difference on their own. The crucial question will be how they do the job,” he told Times Radio.
“It is not clear whether any of them will give the Conservative Party across the UK the kind of recovery in fortune that certainly happened after Johnson became prime minister.”