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A bullish Boris Johnson hit the campaign trail in Hartlepool today amid fears the bitter ‘wallpapergate’ row is starting to hit Tory support.

The PM chatted with voters and posed for selfies with just days left before the ‘Super Thursday’ elections – when the town will elect a new MP.

The Conservatives have been hoping to pull off a massive coup by seizing the constituency from Labour. Victory would underline the destruction of the ‘Red Wall’ that secured Mr Johnson’s huge majority in 2019, although Tory insiders have been desperately playing down their chances.

Speaking to reporters on a visit that confirms the party is still hoping to pull off a shock, Mr Johnson pointed out that the seat had voted ‘overwhelmingly’ for Brexit – insisting that the UK’s stunning vaccine rollout and the introduction of freeports was only possible because he completed the split from Brussels.  

But there are signs that the party’s huge poll lead is starting to be reeled in after a grim tide of stories about lobbying, cronyism and Mr Johnson’s lavish refurbishment of his grace-and-favour flat.

Polls over the weekend showed a significant narrowing, in a glimmer of light for Keir Starmer, who has been repeatedly attacking ‘Tory sleaze’.

Sir Keir insisted he will take ‘full responsibility’ for the results of the critical battles on Thursday. 

Alongside the Hartlepool seat and 5,000 councillors, key mayoral posts in the West Midlands, Tees Valley, and London are also up for grabs on Thursday.

The contest for Holyrood in Scotland is set to decide whether Nicola Sturgeon mounts a push for a fresh independence referendum.   

Boris Johnson chatted with voters and posed for selfies in Hartlepool with just days left before the 'Super Thursday' elections - when the town will elect a new MP

Boris Johnson chatted with voters and posed for selfies in Hartlepool with just days left before the 'Super Thursday' elections - when the town will elect a new MP

Boris Johnson chatted with voters and posed for selfies in Hartlepool with just days left before the ‘Super Thursday’ elections – when the town will elect a new MP

The Conservatives have been hoping to pull off a massive coup by seizing the Hartlepool constituency from Labour

The Conservatives have been hoping to pull off a massive coup by seizing the Hartlepool constituency from Labour

The Conservatives have been hoping to pull off a massive coup by seizing the Hartlepool constituency from Labour

A bullish Boris Johnson hit the campaign trail in Hartlepool today amid fears the bitter 'wallpapergate' row is starting to hit Tory support

A bullish Boris Johnson hit the campaign trail in Hartlepool today amid fears the bitter 'wallpapergate' row is starting to hit Tory support

A bullish Boris Johnson hit the campaign trail in Hartlepool today amid fears the bitter ‘wallpapergate’ row is starting to hit Tory support

Voters in England, Scotland and Wales will go to the polls on Thursday for contests in the devolved parliaments, regional mayors and local councils, with Labour expecting a 'very difficult' night

Voters in England, Scotland and Wales will go to the polls on Thursday for contests in the devolved parliaments, regional mayors and local councils, with Labour expecting a 'very difficult' night

Voters in England, Scotland and Wales will go to the polls on Thursday for contests in the devolved parliaments, regional mayors and local councils, with Labour expecting a ‘very difficult’ night

Minister refuses to say PM should quit if he broke ministerial code 

A senior minister today refused to say that Boris Johnson will quit if he is found to have broken conduct rules over his lavish flat makeover – despite the Scottish Tory leader insisting he would have to go.

James Cleverly dodged questions, suggesting that the ministerial code was merely there for the ‘guidance of the PM’ when he appoints his team.

The comments came despite Douglas Ross, the most senior Tory north of the border, saying bluntly that ‘of course’ Mr Johnson should resign if he did not abide by the standards.

Several probes are under way into the tangled financing of the costly refurbishment – including an investigation by Mr Johnson’s new adviser on ministerial interests, Lord Geidt.

Meanwhile, the PM is also facing allegations that Tory donors were approached to pay for his personal trainer and a nanny for his son Wilf. 

However, as head of the Government the premier is still the final arbiter on any breaches of the ministerial code. 

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During a rainy visit to a seafront fish and chip restaurant in Hartlepool, the PM was asked if he was concerned whether the flat refurbishment row might affect voters.

Mr Johnson said: ‘I have always believed that it was going to be a tough fight and I still believe that is the case.’

He pleaded with people to focus on the ‘massive opportunities’ the Tories had brought by delivering on Brexit.

Pressed on whether his visit to the seat might have a negative effect on the party’s prospects, he said: ‘I think that people will focus on the issues that matter to them.

‘That is the vaccine rollout, the chances of our economy bouncing back really strongly in the second half of this year, what we are doing to make sure that happens.’

Mr Johnson spoke to diners at the Surfside Fish Bar and Restaurant who were braving the elements to eat or sip coffees outside as the rain started to fall at lunchtime.

The popular cafe is in Seaton Carew and overlooks the North Sea close to the spot where canoe man John Darwin faked his own death in 2002.

Campaigning with London mayor Sadiq Khan in the capital today, Sir Keir said he will ‘take full responsibility whatever the outcome’ on Thursday.

‘I will take full responsibility for the results in the elections this week, I will take full responsibility for everything that the Labour Party does,’ he told reporters

‘We have had a fantastic team of candidates and people out there, members and supporters, having conversations on the doors.

‘We’ve got a number of days to go but I will take full responsibility whatever the outcome.’

A senior minister today refused to say that Boris Johnson will quit if he is found to have broken conduct rules over his lavish flat makeover – despite the Scottish Tory leader insisting he would have to go.

James Cleverly dodged questions, suggesting that the ministerial code was merely there for the ‘guidance of the PM’ when he appoints his team.

The comments came despite Douglas Ross, the most senior Tory north of the border, saying bluntly that ‘of course’ Mr Johnson should resign if he did not abide by the standards.

Several probes are under way into the tangled financing of the costly refurbishment – including an investigation by Mr Johnson’s new adviser on ministerial interests, Lord Geidt.

Meanwhile, the PM is also facing allegations that Tory donors were approached to pay for his personal trainer and a nanny for his son Wilf. 

However, as head of the Government the premier is still the final arbiter on any breaches of the ministerial code. 

In a round of broadcast interviews this morning, Mr Cleverly was repeatedly pressed on whether Mr Johnson should resign if he broke the ministerial code. 

‘The ministerial code is there for the guidance of the PM in appointing ministers,’ he told Sky News.

‘I don’t know any more detail than the things the PM has already said.’

Pushed on whether a PM who breaks the code should go ‘on principle’, he said: ‘It is pointless speculating about what actions might be taken… it is not as simple as you have set out.’  

Speaking to Times Radio Mr Cleverly said: ‘The investigations and reports that will come out into the public domain about this need to come out.

‘I’m not going to speculate about what the content of those reports will be or how the Prime Minister responds to any of those reports.

‘Speculating about the outcome or what comes next is not right.

‘We’ll let the reports do their thing and the Prime Minister will make the decisions based on any recommendations that those reports have in them.’

Mr Ross was asked on BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show yesterday if Mr Johnson should quit if found to be in breach of the code.

He replied: ‘Of course, I think people expect the highest standards of those in the highest office of the land, that’s why I think people are looking at the investigations that are currently ongoing and waiting for the answers.’

Mr Ross is the most senior Tory to question the funding arrangements, putting him at odds with No 10.

His comments are likely to infuriate Downing Street, which has sought to play down the row. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab yesterday dismissed claims that a Tory donor was asked to pay for a nanny for Mr Johnson’s one-year-old son Wilfred as ‘tittle-tattle’.

Mr Johnson elbow-bumped with a wide variety of locals on the windswept seafront in Hartlepool today

Mr Johnson elbow-bumped with a wide variety of locals on the windswept seafront in Hartlepool today

Mr Johnson elbow-bumped with a wide variety of locals on the windswept seafront in Hartlepool today

Speaking to reporters, Mr Johnson pointed out that the seat had voted 'overwhelmingly' for Brexit - insisting that the UK's stunning vaccine rollout had only been possible because he completed the split from Brussels

Speaking to reporters, Mr Johnson pointed out that the seat had voted 'overwhelmingly' for Brexit - insisting that the UK's stunning vaccine rollout had only been possible because he completed the split from Brussels

Speaking to reporters, Mr Johnson pointed out that the seat had voted ‘overwhelmingly’ for Brexit – insisting that the UK’s stunning vaccine rollout had only been possible because he completed the split from Brussels

Campaigning with London mayor Sadiq Khan in the capital today, Sir Keir said he will 'take full responsibility whatever the outcome' on Thursday

Campaigning with London mayor Sadiq Khan in the capital today, Sir Keir said he will 'take full responsibility whatever the outcome' on Thursday

Campaigning with London mayor Sadiq Khan in the capital today, Sir Keir said he will ‘take full responsibility whatever the outcome’ on Thursday

Nicola Sturgeon was also out on the campaign trail in Dumfries today, with Scottish elections set to be crucial for her separatist drive

Nicola Sturgeon was also out on the campaign trail in Dumfries today, with Scottish elections set to be crucial for her separatist drive

Nicola Sturgeon was also out on the campaign trail in Dumfries today, with Scottish elections set to be crucial for her separatist drive

James Cleverly

James Cleverly

Douglas Ross, the most senior Tory north of the border, said yesterday that the Prime Minister should 'of course' quit if he did not abide by the standards of conduct expected of ministers

Douglas Ross, the most senior Tory north of the border, said yesterday that the Prime Minister should 'of course' quit if he did not abide by the standards of conduct expected of ministers

James Cleverly (left) dodged questions, suggesting that the ministerial code was merely there for the ‘guidance’ of Boris Johnson when he appoints his team. But Scots Tory leader Douglas Ross (right) yesterday suggested the PM would be obliged to resign if he broke it

The PM (pictured with Carrie Symonds last year) has been struggling to quell the 'wallpapergate' row over his grace-and-favour residence

The PM (pictured with Carrie Symonds last year) has been struggling to quell the 'wallpapergate' row over his grace-and-favour residence

The PM (pictured with Carrie Symonds last year) has been struggling to quell the ‘wallpapergate’ row over his grace-and-favour residence

Billion-pound plan to save the union

Billions more pounds will be spent on Scotland by the UK Government in an attempt to further dampen support for independence.

A blueprint to save the union will see huge investment in road and rail links with England and patients waiting for treatment could be seen in NHS hospitals south of the border.

The plans are set to be revealed soon after Thursday’s Scottish Parliament elections to see off demands for a fresh independence referendum.

But polls published at the weekend suggest the SNP is unlikely to win a large majority, denting its mandate for a referendum.

One by BMG suggested the SNP would take 68 seats with Alex Salmond’s Alba Party getting two and the Greens nine – a total of 79 pro-independence MSPs out of 129.

Panelbase for the Sunday Times indicated the SNP may get 65 seats – a majority of one – with the Tories on 28 and Labour on 18. 

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The Sunday Times reported that senior Conservatives said donors have been approached about funding other aspects of the PM and Carrie Symonds’ lifestyle. 

One donor is alleged to have said: ‘I don’t mind paying for leaflets but I resent being asked to pay to literally wipe the Prime Minister’s baby’s bottom.’

Mr Raab said he had ‘no idea’ if the claim was correct, adding: ‘You don’t have conversations like that with the PM.’

A No 10 spokesman said the Prime Minister ‘has covered the cost of all childcare’, but did not say whether he paid for the original bill himself.

The Foreign Secretary declined to deny a claim that a second invoice for the renovations may have been settled with the supplier by a Tory donor. 

Mr Raab also sidestepped questions over whether Mr Johnson should resign if he is found to have broken the law by the Electoral Commission.

The Electoral Commission last week launched an investigation into whether any donations or loans were properly declared. It is also the subject of an internal review by the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, and there have been calls for the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone to investigate.

Mr Johnson last week said he has now paid the £58,000 cost overrun and described the row as a ‘farrago of nonsense’.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy said yesterday: ‘We need to know who the Prime Minister is beholden to, we need to know what he has promised in return.’

Mr Johnson’s chaotic decision-making has led No 10 insiders to nickname him ‘Trolley’, according to the BBC.

One source said: ‘You think you are pushing it along a path towards your goal then suddenly it veers off disastrously.’

Downing Street has declined to comment on the name.

What is up for grabs in the ‘Super Thursday’ elections? 

Voters across Great Britain will go to the polls on May 6 on what has been dubbed ‘Super Thursday’.

Every adult in England, Scotland and Wales will be entitled to vote in at least one contest.

The results could provide a critical marker for the direction of Britain – and in the case of Scotland, give an indication of whether Nicola Sturgeon’s drive for another independence referendum will get traction. 

Here is a run-down of the different contests happening on Thursday:  

Scottish Parliament

Voters in Scotland will elect 129 MSPs in a crucial contest which will give an indication of the level of support for the SNP’s push for a fresh vote on independence.

People will cast two ballots under the additional member system – a form of proportional representation – electing both constituency and regional MSPs.

Votes for the individual candidates in the 73 constituencies are counted first.

The 56 regional MSPs – split across eight regions – are elected using a formula aimed at ensuring that the number of seats a party gets in total across a region is about the same as the percentage of votes it receives.

Welsh Parliament

Labour has run Wales since devolution and Mark Drakeford hopes to maintain the party’s grip on the Senedd.

The additional member system is used to elect 40 constituency and 20 regional members.

Hartlepool by-election

The contest to elect Hartlepool’s next MP provides a key test for Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. The party held the seat in 2019 with a majority of 3,595.

But the ‘red wall’ across the north crumbled, handing Boris Johnson the keys to No 10, so the by-election will give an indication of whether Sir Keir has been able to reverse the process that has seen Labour’s heartlands disappear.

Bookmakers have made the Tories odd-on favourites to secure the seat, a rare feat for a governing party.

As in a general election, the first-past-the-post system is used – whoever gets the most votes wins the seat.

London

In London, Labour’s Sadiq Khan is the bookies’ favourite to retain City Hall.

Voters choose the mayor using the supplementary vote system, picking a first and a second preference for the job. If a candidate receives more than half of all the first choice votes they are elected. If this does not happen, the two candidates with the most first choice votes go through to another round, with second preferences from the eliminated candidates taken into account.

Voters in the capital will also elect 25 London Assembly Members using a system similar to that in Scotland and Wales.

English mayors

Regional mayors will be elected for Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley, West Midlands, West of England and – for the first time – West Yorkshire. High-profile names seeking re-election include Labour’s Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester and Tory Andy Street in the West Midlands.

Five local mayors are also due to be elected on May 6, for the local authorities of Bristol, Doncaster, Liverpool, North Tyneside and Salford.

Like the London mayoral contest, the supplementary vote system is used.

Local elections

There will be 21 county councils holding elections, along with 28 unitary authorities, 59 district councils and 35 of the 36 metropolitan boroughs (the one exception is Birmingham, where elections will take place in 2022). 

In total around 5,000 councillors are due to be elected, all using the first-past-the-post system.

Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections

PCCs will be elected in all areas of England apart from London, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire, where these powers are held by the directly-elected mayor. A total of 39 commissioners will be chosen across England and Wales using the supplementary vote system.

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