Former Tory minister Penny Mordaunt has likened Boris Johnson to the accident-prone 1970s sitcom character Frank Spencer.
The former defence secretary, and several leading Tories, were attempting to defend Johnson as fresh serious allegations about his conduct were made on Sunday.
Mordaunt, also ex-women and equalities minister, drew the comparison with the hapless ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em’ protagonist and insisted that the PM could still appeal to female voters.
It comes as Johnson was said to have groped journalist Charlotte Edwardes “high” up her thigh at a party in 1999.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Edwardes claimed Johnson, who was at the time editor of the Spectator, also targeted another woman at the same event.
Fresh claims about Johnson’s relationship with the model turned technology entrepreneur Jennifer Acuri were also made on Sunday, as the Times reported the pair were thought to have been having an affair while Johnson was mayor of London.
It is alleged Johnson failed to declare their friendship and improperly provided benefits to Arcuri’s businesses when he was in City Hall.
It follows a week in which questions have been asked about Johnson’s dismissing as “humbug” MPs’ concerns his use of language was sparking death threats.
Mordaunt was among several leading Conservative figures to claim Johnson was a feminist as the party’s conference got underway in Manchester.
Speaking at a fringe event organised by the Centre for Policy Studies, Mordaunt compared Johnson to “Frank Spencer in a china shop”.
Spencer, played by actor Michael Crawford, is portrayed as a ne’er do well who struggles to hold down a job and brings misery on his long-suffering wife Betty.
The show’s catchphrases include references to “a bit of trouble” and having “done a woopsie”.
Asked if Johnson could win over young female voters, who flocked to Labour at the last election, Mordaunt said: “I know that he is not the individual that he is quite often painted as being.
“I think occasionally he has the style of Frank Spencer in a china shop. But he is a decent person and I think he cares a great deal about women and girls - that is my experience of him as foreign secretary.”
Women and equalities minister Liz Truss was asked about the allegation at a separate event and told journalists that she hadn’t read the story.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, meanwhile, tried to claim that the allegations about Edwardes related to Johnson’s “private life” and journalists should not be probing the matter.
“Boris has never lectured other people about their private lives,” he told a HuffPost UK fringe at the conference.
Rachel Maclean, a Tory MP and ministerial aide to Chancellor Sajid Javid, told the fringe event: ”I am proud feminist. I’m very proud to serve in a government led by a feminist, which has many feminists in it.”
When asked directly about Johnson’s conduct, Maclean said: “The original feminists talked about deeds not words and on that I absolutely judge the PM to be a feminist.”
Maclean added that Johnson’s conduct had been “politicised”, saying: “I think we are living in an era of ‘words now too’ and I think that has become a part of the dialogue as well and we all do need to reflect on that as well.
“There is a difference between Westminster and how people talk about something in Westminster and how they talk about it out in my constituency in Redditch - massive difference.
“I think people out in the country can see a little bit of what’s happening - it’s being politicised really.”
Former MP Flick Drummond claimed the newspapers were “out to get” Johnson.
She said: “I haven’t seen any papers today but they are all out to get him at the moment. He is incredibly popular in a lot of areas.”
Trade minister George Freeman also claimed that papers were offering a “biased view”, adding” “Boris is clearly a figure who is politically provocative. He’s energetic. He catalyses a reaction and right now there is a massive campaign of personal and political attack. It’s tough.”
He added: “I think we are getting a very biased account of the prime minister and the way that he connects with people.”
Asked on the BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday if he had declared an interest over his ties to Arcuri, Johnson replied: “Everything was done in accordance with the code, and everything was done with full propriety.”