Tory leader race: Boris must stop giving his foes ammunition - LEO MCKINSTRY

After a career that has mixed charisma and controversy in equal measure, his climb to the top of British politics’ greasy pole is almost complete.

What makes this advance all the sweeter for him is that he not only confounded his large army of critics but has also had his revenge on bitter rival Michael Gove, who stabbed him in the back during the 2016 leadership battle.

But, with the hustings among Conservative party members now underway, this weekend there has been a reminder of Johnson’s facility for self-destruction.

News emerged that police were called on Friday to the south London home he shares with partner Carrie Symonds, the former Tory party communications chief, after the couple allegedly had a blazing row.

It was claimed that during the altercation, loud screaming, banging and plate smashing echoed through the building, while at one point Symonds was apparently heard telling Johnson to “get off me” and “get out of my flat”.

Neighbours who rang the police also said they were so concerned by the incident that they made a recording, which swiftly reached the press.

The story comes after a series of stumbles by Boris’s campaign, despite his support among MPs. Hidden away from the media, he has been curiously subdued, exuding little of his usual sparkle or humour.

When he finally appeared last Tuesday for the BBC debate, he gave a poor performance, hesitant and defensive. Nor has he provided a credible plan for the implementation of Brexit, or a clear statement of his economic policy.

His one distinctive proposal – a tax cut for the affluent – was widely derided.

But the reported dispute with Symonds is far more damaging. It has the potential to demolish his entire leadership bid, because it feeds into the hostile narrative that he is unreliable, divisive and shambolic.

This is a man with a notoriously chaotic private life, epitomised by the recent break-up of his second marriage.

The Tory party are not, of course, electing a bishop but members want a certain amount of dignity in the next prime minister.

It may well be that this is just a passing squall which will soon blow over.

After all, the police issued a statement which said that, after the visit, there were “no offences or concerns apparent to officers” and there was “no cause for action”.

Nor do we know anything about the nature of the row, which seems to have started when Boris spilled red wine on the sofa.

Moreover, questions could be asked about the behaviour of the neighbours.

As the trade union official Paul Embery put it: “I loathe Boris Johnson with a passion but what sort of person must you be to record secretly a neighbouring couple having a barney and then gave the recording to a newspaper.”

There is undoubtedly a ferocious Stop Boris campaign, which will seize on anything to undermine his cause.

That was all too clear in the dire BBC debate when the host Emily Maitlis, reflecting the BBC’s bias, questioned him far more aggressively than any of the other candidates.

Boris is so loathed and feared because of both his central role in the Brexit victory at the 2016 referendum and his willingness to challenge the fashionable orthodoxy.

Many of his so-called “gaffes” are nothing of the sort, but are piercing statements of reality that expose the hollow ideology of the progressive elite.

Several of our previous prime ministers have had unorthodox private lives, most notably Lloyd George, who proved victorious in the First World War, but was widely known as the Old Goat.

Yet it is precisely because Boris is such a target that he needs to be more disciplined and authoritative.

At this crucial hour, when we could be about to take control of our nation’s destiny, he cannot afford to give his enemies any ammunition.

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