Boris Johnson will miss the election campaign and Tories are panicking... but a fresh purge of Boris fans by No10 is still in full swing, write GLEN OWEN and ANNA MIKHAILOVA

Boris Johnson will be conspicuous by his absence during this General Election campaign – not by design, his allies stress, but because the Election was as much of a surprise to him as to most of the country. The ex-PM has booked a series of foreign trips that will take him out of the UK for the majority of the critical period.

However, his presence will still be sensed across the shires this weekend as Tory Associations panic-select their candidates, amid claims that Johnson fans are being purged in favour of One-Nation Remainers and Rishi Sunak acolytes. Because the candidates need to be selected by June 7, interviews are being moved to Zoom and selection panels will be working over the bank holiday.

After Michael Gove became the latest high-profile departure, the Tories are scrambling to find almost 200 candidates in a process riven by blue-coloured skulduggery and backbiting, with parliamentary hopefuls privately sniping that Downing Street is parachuting its cronies into seats such as Gove's once safe Surrey Heath.

Boris Johnson's allies dismiss calls from Tory MP Andrea Jenkyns for him to stand in the Election

Typical was Thursday evening's fractious meeting of the Mid Bedfordshire Conservatives, where a by-election, triggered by the departure of former Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, was lost last year. The defeated Tory candidate, Festus Akinbusoye, had hoped to be adopted again for the General Election, but according to sources was 'eliminated by a loo-break stitch-up'.

During a break in proceedings – being held to sift ten candidates down to three, who would then be voted on by the Association – a senior member of the executive committee is alleged to have 'leaned' on his colleagues to remove Mr Akinbusoye from the shortlist because 'the Association is bound to select him'.

Blake Stephenson, who emerged victorious, is described by one source as 'a Boris-hating Remain campaigner'.

The final three possibles had included Jamie Wallis, the transgender MP for Bridgend, who announced last October that he would not seek re-election to the Welsh constituency, two years after crashing his car into a lamppost while wearing a black leather mini-skirt and high heels. He fled the scene, but was later arrested and found gulity of failing to report an accident.

Last night Ms Dorries said: 'Festus is a strong Brexiteer and a Boris Johnson supporter – a political rock star on the streets. Despite this, Mid Bedfordshire executive committee decided not to put him forward to local party members to vote for him. An amazing local candidate has been duped out of the seat he had worked so hard to win.'

As for Johnson himself, his allies dismiss calls from Tory MP Andrea Jenkyns for him to stand in the Election. Although Johnson spoke to Sunak about unrelated matters the day before the announcement on Wednesday, the PM has still not directly asked him to take part in the campaign. Discussions about his role are being held through two intermediaries: Johnson ally Lord Kempsell and Mr Sunak's campaign chief Isaac Levido.

Despite Boris speaking to Rishi Sunak the day before the General Election announcement on Wednesday, the Prime Minister has still not directly asked Boris to take part in the campaign

Despite Boris speaking to Rishi Sunak the day before the General Election announcement on Wednesday, the Prime Minister has still not directly asked Boris to take part in the campaign

A source said: 'Expect more trenchant attacks on Starmer in Boris's Daily Mail column and some other interventions, but he will be out of the country for most of it.'

Meanwhile, the PM has denied reports that former Brexit minister and Johnson ally Lord Frost had been blocked from standing as an MP. Frost says that he will now 'consider the options' but a source close to him said the selection process means he is unlikely to stand.

The source added: 'He'd need to give up his seat in the Lords, so it's a big gamble. He hasn't been blocked but they have not exactly made it easy for him. Essentially, he needs to have a seat lined up where he knows an Association will pick him – but that has not been done. So he's leaving it until the next Election.'

Lord Frost's experience contrasts with claims that Sunak's allies are being parachuted into plum Conservative constituencies.

One furious Brexiteer MP, who last week wrote a letter of no confidence in the PM, told The Mail on Sunday: 'All they care about is trying to be the next MP for Stratford-upon-Avon [where former Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi is stepping down]. They aren't doing anything to keep the Red Wall.'

There are increasing concerns over the influence of Gareth Fox, head of candidates, and his colleague Matt Lane. In leaked messages seen by the MoS, one Tory wrote that candidates are being 'pushed aside because they don't meet Fox and Lane's woke sensibilities'. The source called on the party's centre-right to 'take back control after the General Election' adding: 'I want my party back.'

Increasingly, powerful Conservatives feel the same. Last week, as Sunak blindsided his base with a snap Election, there was a dinner of Tory party grandees. They included allies of Dougie Smith, the shadowy 'fixer' accused of plotting to topple Mr Johnson. A source in the room said: 'They openly talked about how they brought down Boris and will now turn on Rishi.'

Donors have been taking matters into their own hands and only giving money to candidates who they think will bring the Conservative party back to basics. One has been sponsoring just Right-wing candidates because he believes the party has been 'taken over by the soft lefty middle'.

Significantly, too, the rivals lining up to replace Sunak after a likely election wipeout are trying to influence the direction of the party, with former Home Secretaries Priti Patel and Suella Braverman, along with former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick, particularly active in reaching out to candidates. Patel has been touring Tory Associations, meeting prospective MPs. 'She is going full throttle,' a source said. 'The feeling is, whatever the result, we've got to change.'

A Tory HQ source dismissed the allegations of wokeism and rigged selections as 'nonsense' saying that 'people use them as an excuse for not being selected'.

The Mail on Sunday revealed earlier this year that former PM Liz Truss had warned fellow members of the Tory Right that they were losing the battle for the future of the party, arguing that the selection of the next generation of MPs was being warped by wokery and political correctness taking precedence over Conservative political ideology.

A senior ex-Cabinet Minister said: 'The biggest mistake was getting rid of Boris. It's like taking off your best centre forward. There is no way we would be 20 points behind today - maybe ten, and he could narrow that in a campaign. If you had told colleagues that when they got rid of Boris they'd be looking at being left with 150 seats, they wouldn't have done it.'

The ex-Minister also said that Sunak's decision to call a snap election was 'selfish' adding: 'Don't underestimate the personal in politics. He hates the job. His wife hates it. Sunak's thinking, 'I want to have a nice summer with my family.' He doesn't give a f**k about the parliamentary party.'

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