In Brief

Entryism could swing Tory leadership contest

Pro-Brexit supporters urged to join party and vote for Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg

Supporters of the pro-Brexit group Leave.EU are being encouraged to become Tory party members in order to support Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg in a future leadership election.

Conservative MPs have been warned of the risk of entryism, after it emerged the group’s 88,000 supporters have been urged to “flood” the Tory party to elect a “true Brexiteer”.

It has been widely reported that the former foreign secretary will look to launch one final bid for the leadership in the autumn and looks to have secured the support of Rees-Mogg whose backing would be crucial in making sure Johnson’s name makes it onto the final ballot sent out to members.

Under Conservative party rules, anyone who has been a member for more than three months can vote for their preferred candidate from a shortlist of two, selected by Conservative MPs in a series of ballots.

Tory MP Anna Soubry, who has warned local associations lack the resources to check the credentials of potential members, said: “These people are absolutely dedicated to their cause. And you don’t need an awful lot of people to make a huge amount of difference – so it’s really worrying.”

According to The Guardian, “the latest published figures showed Tory membership at 124,000, making it less than a quarter of the size of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party and raising the risk that a relatively small number of activists could influence the outcome of a poll”.

The decision to allow ‘temporary members’ who paid £3 to vote in the 2015 Labour leadership election is widely recredited with helping Corbyn win against more mainstream candidates. It also led to accusations of entryism from the far-left but also the far-right, with some moderate Labour MPs claiming Tory supporters had signed up to vote for Corbyn in the belief he would be unelectable at a general election.

Fears pro-Brexit and far-right supporters could seek to sway a future Tory leadership contest were given fresh impetus after a Sunday Times investigation revealed Boris Johnson’s official Facebook page hosts hundreds of Islamophobic messages.

Under entries that publicise Johnson’s articles and speeches, the MP’s followers left comments including calls to ban Islam and deport Muslims, as well as personal attacks on the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.

In addition to Johnson’s official Facebook page, it found thousands of offensive comments on 10 Facebook groups run by supporters of Johnson and Rees-Mogg, whose members include Tory councillors, officials and agents.

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