Why can’t they just end this tawdry circus? ROBERT HARDMAN visits Yorkshire – where Boris disastrously launched his election warm-up – and finds a howl of rage from voters fed up of politicians on all sides behaving badly
Even his biggest fans would concede it was an awful start to the Prime Minister’s election warm-up in Yorkshire this week.
Boris Johnson’s big speech, set against a telegenic backdrop of Yorkshire police recruits, was a clunker, the faux-bumbling Boris routine falling dismally flat in front of an audience of mirthless senior Plods.
To cap it all, his declaration that he’d rather ‘be dead in a ditch’ than extend our membership of the EU was upstaged by a poor young copper keeling over behind him.
His opponents gleefully claimed this was all emblematic of a collapsing regime.
Boris Johnson’s big speech, set against a telegenic backdrop of Yorkshire police recruits, was a clunker, the faux-bumbling Boris routine falling dismally flat in front of an audience of mirthless senior Plods. Pictured, a recruit keels over
In fact, it was merely a vivid reminder that there are no certainties in politics.
Whenever this general election does come, nothing can be taken granted. Normal rules no longer apply. No one, least of all the spin doctors, are in control of anything.
Having travelled to Wakefield to listen to the Prime Minister, I have been listening to the electorate, too. For it is areas such as West Yorkshire that will be key in the next election and, thus, Brexit.
And most people hereabouts view Parliament like a foreign country.
Opposition MPs primly take offence when Mr Johnson accuses Jeremy Corbyn of ‘surrendering’ to the EU or being ‘a big girl’s blouse’.
People in Yorkshire don’t seem bothered. They may not like Mr Johnson but they also believe that if you call the Prime Minister a ‘tinpot dictator’, you can’t whine when he hits back.
They do not regard this week’s Tory MP defector to the Lib Dems as a latter-day saint. Rather, they see a shifty politician abandoning one sinking ship for another.
They do not look upon the prorogation of Parliament as a ‘coup’, any more than they look upon the procedural scheming of the Brexit-blockers and tearful Tory rebels as a noble defence of parliamentary sovereignty.
Rather, they just see MPs on all sides behaving badly.
On Left and Right, among Remainers and Leavers, there is a rather more worrying mindset: MPs are merely pointless. Pictured, protesters outside the police training centre where Boris Johnson spoke
The night before Boris Johnson dropped into Yorkshire, Nigel Farage was down the road at Doncaster Racecourse. Pictured are Mr Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel during the visit with the police in West Yorkshire on Friday
And I don’t find anyone who thinks a second EU referendum would be anything other than disastrous.
It’s not the usual moan: ‘Those politicians – they’re all the same/They all lie’ etc.
On Left and Right, among Remainers and Leavers, there is a rather more worrying mindset: MPs are merely pointless.
They might bang on sanctimoniously about ‘saving democracy’ but many voters have simply given up on it. As history shows us, that does not end well.
Take Anne and Mark Barber whom I meet in the centre of Wakefield. They run a cleaning machinery business, they both voted to Remain and they traditionally vote Tory.
‘We never wanted to leave the EU but let’s just get it done now. Whatever it takes. Deal or not,’ says Anne. ‘Finish Brexit and then worry about elections.’
They say that people regard Boris Johnson as a ‘clown’ but they don’t care as long as he gets this thing – which they never wanted – over the line.
‘It’s a pantomime, a nonsense. MPs – they’re just playing games,’ says estate agent Louisa Crook, a Lib Dem by inclination. Her husband, Michael, who runs a kitchen business, says he’d need ‘a gun to my head’ to vote for either Corbyn or Johnson – and he is a former Tory voter.
Neither believes a general election will solve anything, let alone solve Brexit, and they’re unsure how they’ll vote.
Opposition MPs primly take offence when Mr Johnson accuses Jeremy Corbyn of ‘surrendering’ to the EU or being ‘a big girl’s blouse’. Pictured, PM Boris Johnson at Darnford Farm in Scotland yesterday
Yet they are worried: ‘This is really serious for us and our businesses.’
This imponderable mess makes Theresa May’s snap election in 2017 look like child’s play. Back then, it was a largely binary vote: red or blue. Both the Conservatives and Labour were supposedly committed to implementing Brexit.
Ukip had all but vanished and the Lib Dems were a fringe outfit. The next election, however, is a pollster’s nightmare.
The night before Boris Johnson dropped into Yorkshire, Nigel Farage was down the road at Doncaster Racecourse, addressing candidates and supporters of his Brexit Party.
Largely overlooked by the national media, such quasi-revivalist rallies have been packing in all sorts. Polls put the Brexit Party at between 9 and 12 per cent of the vote in an October election. However, if Britain is still in the EU after October 31, its support rockets to 18 per cent.
No wonder Mr Johnson is so keen for an early vote. No wonder Labour and the Scottish Nationalists are concocting ever more laughable excuses for a delay beyond the October 31 cut-off. A difference of just a day or two could change everything.
Among those welcoming Mr Farage in Doncaster was his prospective candidate for Wakefield. Robert Bashforth, 58, confounds any idea that the Brexit Party is just a rebranded Ukip with fresh faces, fewer blazers and no skinheads. A former assistant headmaster at a Wakefield secondary school, he has never belonged to any political party and says he never even thought of voting for Ukip.
‘I’ve come from a more Left-wing, Tony Benn perspective. It’s been about democracy, not parties,’ he tells me. He refused to vote at the last election, only joining Mr Farage’s new party this year when he ‘felt democracy slipping away’ from the people.
Among those welcoming Mr Farage in Doncaster (pictured there on September 4) was his prospective candidate for Wakefield, Robert Bashforth
‘I’ve been on a lot of demonstrations and I have a pretty good antenna for racism. I’m glad to say the screening process was very strong,’ he says.
Though drawing support from all sides, the Brexit Party threatens the Conservatives far more than any other party. Furthermore, Labour’s core vote is more dependable and tribal than the traditional Tory base. Combine the Tory and Brexit Party figures in the latest opinion polls – 33 per cent and 9 per cent respectively – and you see a formidable electoral machine.
Set them against one another, though, and they could easily let Labour or a pro-Remain coalition slip through.
Nigel Farage has proposed a partial truce with the Tories: Tories would stand aside in Labour seats where there was a strong vote for Brexit while the Brexit Party would stand aside in key Tory seats in areas such as the south-west.
The recent Brecon by-election, when the Greens and Plaid Cymru stood aside to give the Lib Dems enough votes (4.4 per cent) to eject the Tories, shows the potential of these local deals.
However, Mr Farage insists on a Tory commitment to a No Deal Brexit as a precondition.
Any such contract would not only see an exodus of middle-of-the-road Tories from the party but, in any case, would be impossible as long as Mr Johnson insists on pursuing a new deal with Brussels.
Nigel Farage has proposed a partial truce with the Tories: Tories would stand aside in Labour seats where there was a strong vote for Brexit while the Brexit Party would stand aside in key Tory seats in areas such as the south-west. Pictured, Farage in Colchester on September 2
Hence the Tory strategy of convincing voters that the only Brexit tough guy is Mr Johnson.
Some party activists, however, believe that some sort of accommodation with Mr Farage is the only answer, particularly if the resurgent Lib Dems look poised to soak up Tories still wedded to the EU.
Wakefield is a case in point. This was strong pro-Brexit country in the 2016 referendum and, in the general election a year later, with no Ukip candidate on the ballot, the Tories came within 2,000 votes of unseating the Labour MP. It was a striking result in an area where the miners’ strike against Margaret Thatcher is engraved in local folklore.
Could a one-off Tory/Brexit alliance here be enough to turf out Labour? In nearby Shipley, local Conservative MP and fervent Brexiteer Philip Davies tells me that the Brexit Party is on the wane now that Boris Johnson is running the Tories.
‘You can understand how the Brexit Party came about while Theresa May was negotiating with the EU,’ he says. ‘But no one could possibly accuse Boris of not meaning business.’
He says that even ardent Remainers on his patch are so exasperated that they would rather Britain crashed out of the EU by end of next month, deal or no deal.
I talk to Jackie Whiteley, a Tory district councillor and businesswoman, who voted to Remain. ‘The EU won the Nobel Peace Prize. It was keeping a lid on nationalism. But it’s not like that any more.’ She now wants out, with or without any deal.
As for this week’s 21 Tory rebels, she’s glad to see the back of them.
‘I have been horrified by the way Boris has been let down by his own MPs. I run a business and I know about negotiating.
‘It is simply not tenable to take No Deal off the table.’
Her company produces organic garden mulch and she has seen the business mirror the political climate. Right now, sales have slumped. After the events of this week, she feels that the only answer is for the Tories and Mr Farage to make some sort of deal.
Given the week he has just had and his dwindling options, the only thing we can safely rule out is Boris Johnson ruling anything out between now and his appointment with the ditch.
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