Boris Johnson has rejected suggestions that allegations of sleaze being levelled at his party could be reflected at the ballot box in upcoming by-elections.
The Prime Minister visited Sidcup on Friday afternoon, where voters will elect a new MP in December after the death of former minister James Brokenshire last month.
He was insistent that the strength of the local candidate in the Old Bexley and Sidcup constituency meant voters would back the Tories in the December 2 race.
It comes after leaked text messages seen by the Times newspaper suggested Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries had accused Tory colleagues of peddling “totally not true” predictions that the fallout from the MP second jobs headlines would hurt the party electorally.
But fresh polling has seen the Tories lose their lead over Labour, or seen it greatly reduced, with a Tory MP admitting the Government had shown “weakness” over the sleaze row.
According to YouGov polling carried out this week, the Conservatives and Labour are neck and neck on 35% of the vote share, with two thirds of voters viewing the Tories as “very sleazy”.
A separate survey by Redfield & Wilton Strategies on Wednesday put Labour two points ahead of the Tories.
James Sunderland, who was elected Conservative MP for Bracknell at the 2019 general election, said he thought there was a “bit of tension” between newer and more established MPs on the Government benches over the handling of former cabinet minister Owen Paterson being suspended for breaching lobbying rules.
He also conceded the row, which he said had divided his party, had provided Labour with an opportunity to gain ground.
Mr Sunderland told the PA news agency: “The left are not in government, they want to be in government, and they’re looking for weakness.
“And I think in many ways, what has happened over the last week or so has provided that opportunity for them.”
The backbencher said the Tories needed to “restore” their “reputational integrity” in the face of criticisms of the Government’s handling of the situation.
The comments and polling come as Lord Evans, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said the public cared about issues such as standards.
Speaking at an event for the Constitution Unit research centre, based at University College London, the former MI5 chief said: “Standards matter for our democracy, they matter for our economic prosperity, and for our international influence and our foreign policy.
“The past week has shown that standards do matter to the public. Ethical standards are important for making democracy work. The public does care about this.”
He added: “The evidence is that people do care about this, and have quite a sophisticated understanding of the issues involved.”
Lord Evans said he would like to see the Government “do more” to ensure probity was upheld.
He said: “Past governments have listened and responded to mounting public concern by reforming the standards system.”
He said the saga involving former Tory MP Mr Paterson, which kicked off the current focus on standards, had created “a huge wave of concern”.
Mr Johnson was asked on his visit to Sidcup whether he feared public concern over standards would lose the Conservatives the by-election.
In reply to a question from the press on the issue, he said: “No, because Louie French (the Conservative candidate) is running a great campaign on the big issues that matter to people.
“(He is) building on the legacy of James Brokenshire, ensuring that Queen Mary Hospital has ever better faculties and making sure that we have ever safer streets in Greater London.”
The party will also face a by-election next month in North Shropshire after Mr Paterson’s resignation.
But the PM said he did not “underestimate the vital importance” of MPs refraining from engaging in paid advocacy.
Mr Johnson added: “We have got to make sure that the standards committee is allowed to get on and do its work and the Commissioner for Standards gets on and does her work.”