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Tory leadership: Rishi Sunak puts the finishing touches on his candidacy to replace Boris Johnson

Rishi Sunak puts the finishing touches to a PR-led leadership campaign after telling allies he thinks Partygate could be ‘unsustainable’ for Boris Johnson, The Independent has learned.

The Chancellor is said to have built a draft version of a campaign website, drawing inspiration from his No.11 weekly newsletter, and developed a marketing strategy.

He and his inner circle are also said to have had informal conversations with former staffers and No 10 MPs about the recent scrutiny of Downing Street, to assess his chances of winning a leadership race, sources said. sources.

The imminent publication of Sue Gray’s report into the parties at No 10 is expected to have less impact after the Metropolitan Police requested that it contain ‘minimal references’ to the parties they are investigating, fearing its publication will prejudice their own criminal investigation.

Police involvement could put the brakes on Mr Sunak’s plans, a source said, although they added that “there is no doubt that Rishi and his team have it all in place”. They noted that there is a clear communication plan and that a copy for a website has been drafted and is ready to go live.

Cass Horowitz, a special adviser to Mr Sunak, is widely credited with building the Chancellor’s online brand, through his shrewd use of social media, building his Instagram account and overseeing his newsletter.

A former member of staff at No 10 said The Independent that Mr. Horowitz was considered a “genius boy” by many in the Conservative Party, having revamped his use of social media before working for Mr. Sunak.

“He built a data dashboard from the newsletter. Every click and share will inform the campaign at large. It has the form of monitoring any popular sentiment online to exploit,” they said.

Newsletter No 11 adopts an informal and optimistic tone. He presents “uplifting” statistics in “Stats Corner” – a selection of official statements from the past week that portray Mr Sunak’s efforts in the best possible light.

The ex-employee said that a Twitter account called “Ready for Rishi” (@ForRishi) – who describes himself as “popular” – placed Hares at No. 10 when he first appeared in September 2020. His last tweet, posted on January 27 and pinned to the top of his profile, reads: “He is time for a leader who doesn’t break the #readyforrishi rules”.

“If I were Cass, I would exploit that feeling,” the former staffer said.

In recent conversations, Mr Sunak reportedly suggested that Partygate would ultimately prove ‘unsurvivable’ for the Prime Minister, sources say.

One discussion reportedly centered on the idea that it would not be possible for Mr Johnson to continue in the long term, as the scandal had permanently damaged his brand.

But a source close to Mr Sunak said those claims, as well as those about the chancellor planning a leadership campaign, were “totally false”.

Attention has been drawn to Mr Sunak’s political posturing in recent weeks, which has not gone unnoticed in Downing Street, sources said.

This includes his absence during PMQs when Mr Johnson first apologized for attending the May 2020 party in Issue 10, and the time it took Mr Sunak to publicly support the PM on Twitter, finally delivering what some saw as a lukewarm display of support.

As the wait for Ms Gray’s report drags on, Tory MPs said conversations in the corridors and tearooms of Westminster increasingly revolved around the identity of Mr Johnson’s successor.

A senior Tory MP, who said he supported the Prime Minister, said he was ‘surprised’ that Foreign Secretary Liz Truss drew more criticism for the photo ops than Mr Sunak for the use of his personal brand in regards to policies such as Eat Out to Help.

Alongside Mr Sunak and Ms Truss, speculation has swirled around possible deals upgrading Secretary Michael Gove, former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi.

Other possible candidates being discussed include Mark Harper, whose role as chairman of the Covid Recovery Group has made him a figurehead for lockdown-skeptical MPs, and Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat , which could win the support of “One Nation” MPs linked to the more liberal Conservative reform group.

A deputy said The Independent that preferences for succession were the topic of conversation “whenever two or three come together”.