Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt said the next general election will be decided not by partygate but by the state of the economy.
The former foreign secretary, a persistent backbench critic of Boris Johnson who contested the 2019 Tory leadership contest, also did not rule out standing in any future race.
Mr Hunt, who was appearing at a think-tank event to discuss his new book reflecting on the NHS and his time as health secretary, said: “The next election won’t be decided on whether or not there were inappropriate parties in Downing Street during the pandemic.
“I think the next election will be decided on the economy. And the core reason that ordinary voters vote Conservative is because they think that we will look after the economy better and therefore there’ll be better prospects for them and their families.
“But at the moment, because of all the global shocks that we’ve had, people don’t feel that confidence. So I think that the biggest single challenge is to get the economy growing again.”
Mr Hunt has already publicly called on Mr Johnson to go.
Asked if he would stand again for Tory leader, he said: “We have to see what the circumstances are and then make the decision on that one.”
The Prime Minister is currently facing a fresh controversy after deputy chief whip Chris Pincher dramatically quit last week over allegations he groped two men at a Conservative private members’ club.
Questions continue to be asked about the extent to which Mr Johnson knew of allegations against Mr Pincher when he was appointed by Mr Johnson.
Those allegations were acknowledged, if not directly referenced, by Mr Hunt when he was asked whether UK politicians needed to be better at admitting mistakes.
He said he was “torn” over the idea of a “no-blame culture” in politics.
“I do think the sometimes vicious accountability that we have in parliament is a healthy part of our democracy and it’s what reminds me when I was health secretary or foreign secretary, every day going to Parliament for those gruelling encounters, that in the end, we are the servants and the people are the bosses.
“And so you gain something from that accountability. But I do think, to answer your question directly, we should give more space for politicians to say when they get things wrong, because in the end, people want solutions,” he told the Institute for Government event.
Mr Hunt, who chairs the Health Committee, also said the UK got some things “badly wrong” during the Covid-19 pandemic.
But the senior backbencher also praised the UK vaccine programme.
“As with everything to do with Boris, he never does anything by halves.
“We got some things badly wrong… and then we got some things spectacularly right in the second half.”
He said the UK came out “average” on limiting excess deaths, a common comparator for the severity of the impact of the virus on different countries over various years.
“We didn’t follow what they were doing in Korea and Taiwan,” he said, which he said was “so successful in containing the virus”.
“We ended up having to have a lockdown and having got ourselves in that position, we took too long to implement it.”
“But at the very same time as that happened, Boris’s Government was ordering 400 million doses of vaccines without actually knowing if they would work and that meant that we had the best vaccine programme.”