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Westlake Legal Group > Boris Johnson MP

Vox pub: Don’t write the Conservatives off in Stirling – and therefore in Scotland more widely

The Conservatives have good chances of holding Stirling. They captured the seat by 148 votes from the SNP in 2017, who in turn took it off Labour in the great Nationalist surge of 2015, so anything could happen, especially as many voters are still undecided.

But there was no sign in these conversations of the Nats developing the momentum needed to regain Stirling, and indications that on the contrary, Brexit has become a serious problem for them.

In the Back O’Hill bar, beneath Stirling Castle and next to the Raploch council housing estate, which is officially described as “undergoing regeneration” and where life expectancy is much lower than in the prosperous districts of the constituency, a retired joiner said that because of Brexit he will abstain instead of supporting the SNP:

“I voted to get out of the EU and they want to stay in. And that’s the reason I’m not going to be voting SNP.

“And I couldn’t vote for a Tory, the reason being I haven’t been brought up that way.”

He is “definitely pro-Scottish independence”, but also definitely pro-Brexit, so will not support the SNP “this time”, and knows “a hell of a lot of people”, including his wife and their daughters, who think the same as him.

Further back, he was a Labour man. His father, grandfather and uncles were miners, but his father said to him, when he left school: “No, you’re not going down the pit.”

He asked who this article was for, and on being told ConservativeHome, exclaimed with an incredulous smile: “You’re just winding me up!”

He remarked that “all these pits were owned by Tories, Willie Whitelaw and all the rest, all the big landowners, in those days they were all just arrogant.”

He is a Nationalist because he cannot bear being controlled by other people, and now he finds that if Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, gets her way, “we’re going to end up with the euro and all that. To me that’s not very nice at all. We should have our own money if we’re independent. Plus now we’re going to have someone else [the EU] telling us what to do.”

The proprietor of a grocery store a few hundred yards along Drip Road from the Back O’Hill said as he carried small quantities of stock from the back of his car into the shop: “I’ve never voted Tory but I’m voting Tory this time.

“I voted SNP last time. I will never ever do that again. They sold us down the river, the SNP. They’ve taxed us more than the rest of Britain. They put council tax up. I pay £60 a month more because of the SNP. It’s ridiculous.

“I’ll vote Tory. They’re the only ones who are going to do anything for landlords [he owns some rental property]. Corbyn’s going to set the rule that tenants can buy at a discount. It’s a joke.”

A woman in the shop said in a defiant tone: “I want to go independent. Vote SNP!”

A second woman said: “I’ll be SNP. The Tories just want to make themselves richer and make us poorer. You [the interviewer] sound like you’ve got money. You’re loaded. I can see it.

“We’re all up shit creek no matter who gets in. Let’s be fair, that’s the truth.”

Michael Forsyth held Stirling for the Conservatives from 1983-1997, by majorities of over Labour of 703 in 1992 and 948 in 1987. The predominantly rural constituency, which stretches all the way to Loch Lomond, includes a considerable number of natural Conservatives.

A retired soldier in the Back O’Hill said: “I’m ex-forces. I won’t be voting Corbyn.

“I’ve been voting Tory for years. Not that I’m a fan of Trump, I mean Johnson.

“I class the two of them together. A complete pair of buffoons.

“I voted to leave [the EU]. It’s taking too long to get things organised. It’s getting a bit of a bore now.

“I’m not into Scottish independence. I’m British.”

Johnson was mentioned more often than any other politician, but no one had a good word to say about him. A visitor from Springburn, in Glasgow, said of Brexit: “Get it done and dusted. I just feel as if the Conservatives have made a complete balls up.

“This change of leader and then bringing Boris in and him lying to us, telling us that come what may we’ll be out of the European Union by the 31st, and then he gets to the 31st and tries to close Parliament down.”

ConservativeHome: “But if you want Brexit, isn’t it logical to vote Conservative?”

The visitor: “Aye, but I don’t see him as a leader. He’s just lied time and time again. He went to the Queen and told her a lot of rubbish and asked her to close Parliament down. It was proven unlawful.

“I used to vote SNP but I just don’t think the country could do with another referendum. I’m thinking of voting for Labour this year because they’re thinking about doing away with the Universal Credit thing, which is a good point.”

In Vinney’s Bar, at the other end of Drip Road, a man reading the racing pages of the Daily Record and keeping half an eye on the television said:  “As long as my horses win I dinnae care.

“What do I think about Brexit? Not a clue. What difference is it going to make to us?”

A second man said: “To be fair I’d like Britain to stay as a whole kingdom rather than split up.”

He pointed out that pubs have been damaged by the smoking ban, and by the zero tolerance approach in Scotland to drink driving.

Few people mentioned Stephen Kerr, the Conservative who won Stirling in 2017, and who also stood there unsuccessfully in 2015 and 2005.

Nobody expressed strong feelings either way about him, and nobody at all mentioned Alyn Smith, the SNP challenger this time, who has been an MEP since 2004.

A young Dutchwoman studying at the University of Stirling said most of her friends there are Labour supporters.

Stirling’s tremendous castle looks across to the Wallace Monument, commemorating William Wallace, victor over the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.

Here for many centuries was the lowest point at which the River Forth could be bridged, and it was said with that whoever held Stirling held Scotland.

The SNP would dearly like to regain a seat it held as recently as 2015-17, having won it by a majority of 10,480 from Labour, with the Tories trailing another 1,250 votes behind.

But the SNP’s battle cry, the demand for a second referendum on independence, does not yet seem to excite voters in Stirling; not, at least, on the Raploch, which one might have expected to be fertile territory.

These conversations instead suggest the SNP is losing support to both Labour and the Conservatives.

To be pro-independence but also pro-EU is a message that is perhaps more easily assimilated by Sturgeon than by some of her followers.

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Richard Patient: At last the Conservatives have realised the CBI is the voice of big business, not all business

Richard Patient is an entrepreneur, and founder of property communications company Thorncliffe | Your Shout.  He was London Chairman of Business for Britain during the EU referendum.

It will surprise no one to learn of the antipathy towards the Confederation of British Industry held by Dominic Cummings, given the well-publicised stunt at the CBI conference four years ago.  Then Vote Leave portrayed the CBI as the ‘Voice of Brussels’, in a dig at the Confederation’s then (and since dropped) slogan ‘Voice of Business’.

What may come as a surprise to some is the general scepticism towards the CBI of many high-ranking advisers in Number 10, and not just among the Vote Leave alumni.

Of course, the CBI were never the Voice of Business, merely the voice of their members, and they remain a well-funded and still well-respected lobby group.  The fact that the Prime Minister chose their conference for a major speech will be a source of contentment for their bosses, but is mainly due to the media pack being there rather than any general good-will towards the organisation.

Number 10 know that when Labour attack big business, they are onto something.  Our new voters, those from the working class constituencies that the Tories will be relying on to form their majority, at not just this election but also the next, still recoil from the 2008 banking crisis when the banks feathered their nests at the expense of the rest of us.

These voters know that homes are too expensive, yet see Persimmon bosses awarding themselves over £100 million bonuses.

They see private companies recoiling from risk, but taking the profit, in the case of PFI hospitals and Carillion.

And they see high streets failing, whilst the big e-commerce companies like Amazon offshore their profits to other countries.

That’s not to say the Tories are not the party of business – they are, and always will be.  Business continues to fund much of the Conservative party – but go to dinners like the Carlton Club political dinner last night and you will find there is a massive leaning towards entrepreneurs, those who have started their own business or who lead their companies to make them world-class.

Take Ben Elliot, the Co-Chairman of the Party, who not only started his international luxury lifestyle company Quintessentially, but is also a non-executive of another British success story, YouGov.

Look at Peter Cruddas, a former Party Treasurer – the son of a Smithfield Market worker, he founded CMC Markets and is also a major philanthropist.

Or Anthony Bamford, who still runs the award-winning and acclaimed JCB.

What Number 10 knows is that big business will always lobby for special privileges for this market or that.  Of course they will always couch the argument in terms of quality, standards or safety.  They have been very good at that, particularly within Brussels and the Single Market, which imposes standards for all irrespective of the good for each country or market.  Coming out of the EU and driving trade deals with other countries will halt some of the inexorable demand for new regulations, and over time will reduce burdensome regulations in the UK.

Not so long ago, SMEs and companies smaller than 20 employees – which constitute a massive proportion of the UK economy – were shielded from much of the regulation that faces large companies.  Now, all companies face the same legislation, so a company with five employees has to face the same burdensome laws as a company with 20,000 employees.  Of course larger companies prefer this, as they can employ armies of compliance officers, HR teams and environmental health officers, whilst the MD of the small company has to be a master of everything.

That’s not to say regulations on quality, standards or safety, will go down.  They won’t, and the Government has made that plain in terms of environmental and employment criteria.  That also fits in with their need to keep long-term the once-Labour voters that they appear to be winning during this election.  In some cases, pressure from new voters will mean the Government will impose higher standards, and intervene more.  But if they do so, they should remember that they are imposing burdens not just on the larger businesses that can cope but also on the smaller ones that find it harder.

Over the past 30 years, it has been easy for ministers to take regard of the voices of the CBI and their members.  They are the ones who employ lobbyists and they are the ones that find it easier to gain an audience with politicians, both Labour and Conservative.

But the general direction of many in Number 10 is to widen out this reach.  Take housing, where a revolution needs to take place.  We’re likely to only be able to build the number of homes we need if the Government makes it easier for smaller companies to become major players in the market.

Look at procurement, too.  The Government faces a choice soon as to whether it replicates the OJEU regulations, or makes the system much less onerous, open to a wider pool of companies.

Or take ecommerce, where a tax system needs to be devised to help smaller companies compete.

There are senior people in Downing Street who understand all of this, some of whom have come from big business themselves and who now want to turn gamekeeper.  The CBI will have to work harder and smarter if it wants to retain tits once formidable influence.

The Conservatives have always been the Party of the entrepreneur and the smaller business.  What better way to show this that to go after these SMEs and smaller entrepreneurs and form an army that will help give an intellectual backing and funding to the party as it prepares the big battle towards the next election in 2024.

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WATCH: Johnson tells CBI he plans to put corporation tax cuts on hold

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The campaign, week two. “Small earthquake in Chile. Not many dead.”

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-11-15-at-07.53.35 The campaign, week two. “Small earthquake in Chile. Not many dead.” ToryDiary Sajid Javid MP Polling Opinion Pollster Nigel Farage MEP Lord Ashcroft Labour Highlights General Election Dudley North Conservatives Claud Cockburn Canterbury Brexit Party Boris Johnson MP   As the end of week Two’s campaigning approaches, we repeat what we wrote at the end of Week One’s.  Which party has a good or a bad campaign, let alone a good or a bad week, doesn’t usually seem to make much difference to the result.

The Conservative Manifesto and campaigning calamity in 2017 is a striking exception to this rule, and in an election that follows a hung Parliament, and may itself produce one, small developments could admittedly make a big difference.

The largest one this week has undoubtedly been Nigel Farage’s decision to withdraw Brexit Party candidates from constituencies that the Tories won in 2017.  One take on it is that it won’t make much impact on the result, because that party will still contest Labour-held marginals, where it is likely to take more votes from the Conservatives.

That view may make plausible psephology, but it is very poor psychology.  By deploring the possibility of a hung Parliament, placing his faith in Boris Johnson’s latest commitment on transition, and standing down a mass of candidates, Farage has signalled that it is acceptable for pro-Brexit voters to support the Tories.

If that logic applies in “safe” Conservative constituencies, it also does so in marginal Labour ones – and for all his criticism of the Tories yesterday, the Brexit Party leader has not renounced his decision.  Its candidates in Canterbury and Dudley North, two prominent marginal seats, have taken the point and stood down.  Anyone following the election closely will have noticed.

Of course, it may be that campaign disaster lightning will strike the Tories twice; or that the polls are nowhere near what the election result will be, or that the distribution of the vote will be unfavourable to the Conservatives – who, as last time round, will pile up votes in seats they already hold.

All that said, Labour has not led in a single UK-wide poll since late July – when Boris Johnson was elected Tory leader.  (And it has been found ahead in only one survey since: on November 4 by YouGov in Wales by a single statistically insignificant point.)

Politico’s tracker finds the Conservatives ten points ahead.  Lord Ashcroft’s new dashboard finds a blue triple slam: Johnson beats Jeremy Corbyn as best Prime Minister; forced to choose between the two main parties, voters plump for the Tories; Johnson and Sajid Javid are more trusted on the economy than their Labour counterparts.

Punch those figures into Electoral Calculus’s calculator, and you will get a Conservative majority of 110.  Of course, that’s a very crude measure, which doesn’t take seat distribution into account.  And the polls may be wide of where we end up.  And lightning really could strike twice.

None the less, the likelihood is that all that polling is meaningful; that the Farage intervention has been net helpful to Johnson, and that everything else this week – the seperate-but-linked Scottish campaign, all policy announcements, flooding, and even Javid’s attack on Labour’s spending plans, let alone the relative trivia of candidate selections, stunts and gaffes, have made no difference to anything meaningful.

If so, it will suit Johnson to keep it that way through the manifesto launch, beyond into the leaders’ TV debates, and onward until polling day – with the exception of a Wobbly Wednesday or Tremulous Tuesday or Meltdown Monday in that last week, in order to downplay expections and thus frighten Tory voters into turning out.  The Prime Minister is a bracing campaigner but it is in his interest for this to be a snoozeathon campaign.

Claud Cockburn and his Time colleagues once ran a regular competition to get the dullest possible headline they could imagine into the paper.  (Journalists are fond of these subsersive practices.)  According to legend, Cockburn only ever won once – his entry being “Small Earthquake in Chile, Not many dead”.  There are not many electoral dead after this small earthquake of a campaigning week.

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Sunder Katwala: Childcare, not Kashmir. Neither Narendra Modi nor Imran Khan are candidates in this election.

Sunder Katwala is the Director of British Future.

Successive Conservative party leaders have seen the party’s historically distant relationship with British ethnic minorities as an existential challenge. The party has been only half as likely to win the vote of a non-white as a white British citizen. British Future’s research showed how that ethnic vote gap made the difference between a hung parliament and winning a majority in both 2010 and 2017.

This should be a question of values as well as votes. Any party that aspires to govern our country should want to pass a simple one nation test: that no citizen should feel any tension between supporting that party and their ethnic and faith background. All parties have got work to do for that aspiration to be realised.

The Labour Party’s ruptured relationships with the Jewish community will be a significant election issue. The broad majority of British Jews have lost confidence in Labour’s response to anti-semitism, so that the party which proudly pioneered anti-discrimination legislation in Britain finds itself the subject of an EHRC investigation into evidence compiled by Jewish party members about its failure to create a process or party culture to deal with anti-semitism effectively.

The Conservatives have made some progress with Indian voters, somewhat more slowly than the Conservatives had hoped, or than the socio-economic profile of Indian voters would suggest. So the Conservatives are clearly not the party of Enoch Powell anymore, but the focus on “historic baggage” has overlooked the extent to which the party has risked creating new baggage, as the Windrush scandal exemplified.

The Conservative Party has flat-lined or slipped back from a low base with both black British voters and British Muslims. There was little public debate in the party after Zac Goldsmith’s campaign for London Mayor in 2016. and the sluggish progress after Boris Johnson’s commitment to an inquiry into anti-Muslim prejudice in the party, secured by Sajid Javid during the party leadership contest, captures a reactive and reluctant approach to grasping this nettle.

There is an increasingly divergent pattern between different minority groups, but generalising about ethnic groups also over-simplifies if it does not recognise how cleavages of class, education and geography play out within minority groups too. Black British and Asian voters were also Remainers and Leavers . Those who work in the public sector, who lean left, and private sector, who lean right, may prioritise different issues too.

Johnson has said that he is proud to have appointed the most ethnically diverse Cabinet in British history: the party plans to give  Priti Patel, Sajid Javid and rising star Rishi Sunak a prominent role in the election. The Conservative 2019 campaign will seek to narrow the ethnic voting gap, but it may have become a second-order priority in the short-term. The central focus of the party’s Brexit realignment bid in 2019 is on Leave-voting towns held by Labour, that have an older and whiter demographic, rather echoing how the 2015 majority combined some progress with British Asian voters along with heavy gains in the south-west, among England’s least ethnically diverse regions.

There are towns, including Bedford, Keighley and Peterborough where the ethnic minority vote may play a significant role this time around. The gradual geographic spread of ethnic diversity means that ethnic minority voters are not just a large share of the vote in London marginals like Battersea and Kensington, but one part of the electoral jigsaw in suburban marginal seats too.

The Conservatives may be slower to increase their share of Indian voters if they can’t reverse the broader generation gap in British politics, so that young graduates and the under-30s are leaning left across most groups, as part of the polarisation by education and age of post-Brexit politics. Beyond the 2019 campaign, any sustainable majority strategy for the party depends on working how to bridge these generational and ethnic minority gap.

British elections often see noisy, self-promoting claims about the ability to deliver ethnic minority voters en bloc to swing seats from one party or another, with a noisy row over claims to represent the Indian vote in this election.

Foreign policy issues are, doubtless, somewhat more salient to diasporas than to other voters – but to nothing like the extent that media coverage suggests.  The evidence suggests that ethnic minority voters also prioritise domestic issues – the economy, jobs and the NHS – over foreign policy ones.  For most ethnic minority voters, the central questions are who should lead the country; Brexit; jobs, crime, the economy and the NHS.

Views of foreign policy may reinforce broader feelings of trust or mistrust about Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn, but neither Narendra Modi nor Imran Khan are on the ballot paper in a British general election and British voters from Indian and Pakistani backgrounds have mixed views of both leaders.  There will also be British Indian voters for whom crime, childcare or climate change are more pressing issues than Kashmir.

Temples, mosque and gurdwaras remain popular for colourful political photo opportunities. Younger British-born ethnic minority voters will expect to hear from national party leaders or their local candidates about why they deserve their vote – rather than listening to those who claim that their faith or ethnic background should determine their vote. The idea that those in the congregation want to be instructed on how to vote is an outdated form of minority politics that younger British-born voters often want to leave behind.

Efforts to play ‘good minority’ and ‘bad minority’ on either side of the party argument would be bad for social cohesion in Britain – and deserve to fail electorally too. As all parties seek to secure support from these growing sections of the electorate, they need to do so for the right reasons if they want to pass the one nation test.

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What Johnson said about an independent enquiry into Conservative anti-Muslim hatred

Cards on the table.  This site first called for an enquiry into anti-Muslim hatred and prejudice as long ago as 2010.  If any right-of-centre media outlet did so before then, we’re not aware of it.

Last year, we suggested that the Extremism Commissioner look at hatred and prejudice more widely in a single inquiry – including anti-Muslim hatred, of course.  It would need to be a major strand of such an investigation.  This is the broad route that the Government is going down.

Some say that there should be a stand-alone inquiry into anti-Muslim hatred focusing on the Conservative Party alone – perhaps commissioned independently by the Party itself.  They add that the main Tory leadership candidates, including Boris Johnson, committed to one during the contest.

For the record, the Conservative Party clearly has a problem with anti-Muslim hatred – though not remotely on the same scale as Labour’s anti-semitism one.  It is also worth looking at the tape to see what was actually said and by whom.  The forum was a BBC debate.  Viewers will find the relevant section at 1.23 minutes in.

  • Sajid Javid says: “You’re all good guys. Shall we have an external investigation in the Conservative Party into Islamophobia?”
  • Jeremy Hunt says “absolutely”, and emphasises his view by stretching out his arms and opening his hands in a gesture of agreement.
  • Michael Gove moves his head up and down very slightly.  It looks more like a movement of assent than not, but he says nothing.
  • Boris Johnson nods, then shakes his head sideways, then barks something.  It might be agreement – or one of those characteristic wordless Johnson expostulations.
  • Javid then says: “Rory, you agree?” to Rory Stewart.  Stewart nods.  Readers will remember that he didn’t fully engage with the debate.

It is true that none of the candidates dissented from Javid’s challenge.  That can certainly be read as assent.  But, contrary to some claims, we can’t see any evidence from the tape that Johnson explicitly committed himself to a Conservative-only investigation.

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Vox pub: Cornish voters wonder whether they can trust the Prime Minister more than the Lib Dems

Voters in St Ives are in a state of deep perplexity. Many of them feel politically homeless.

A large number of left-wing Leavers in West Cornwall are unhappy about supporting either of the two main contenders for the seat, and can also be heard wondering whether they can trust Boris Johnson.

The highly marginal constituency of St Ives, which includes Land’s End and Penzance, was held in 2017 by Derek Thomas for the Conservatives, who beat Andrew George, for the Lib Dems, by 312 votes.

The same two candidates have faced each other over the last three general elections and will fight it out again this time, George having represented the seat from 1997 to 2015, for much of that period with just over half the vote.

Nigel Farage’s announcement on Monday that the Brexit Party is withdrawing its candidates in Tory-held seats has shocked Leave voters in St Ives.

Tris Stock said on Monday evening in the Longboat Inn in Penzance, the largest town in the constituency, he was so infuriated that for several hours that afternoon he had contemplated standing himself in St Ives under the banner of “Real Brexit”.

He added: “You are speaking to someone who was right on the verge of trying to take votes away from the Conservatives.

“It was because the Brexit Party dumped us, and I liked the Brexit Party a lot.

“I’m a democrat before any other political consideration. I mean that.

“And I’m a Brexiteer. Any socialist has to be a Brexiteer. Don’t think for a moment the Labour Party is anything to do with socialism. It’s about maintaining the status quo.

“There is only one socialist left in the Labour Party as far as I’m concerned and that is Dennis Skinner.”

Stock will not support Labour in this election: “They screwed me over because they said, ‘We will respect the referendum’.”

Nor will he support the Lib Dems, with their commitment to reverse Brexit, although “I quite liked Andrew George as an MP “.

But can he trust the Conservative candidate? Stock wrestled with this question: “Ninety-five per cent of all the people I know are not only pro-Brexit but don’t like Derek Thomas. They hate him. They don’t believe him.

“Those sort of people are why Leave won the referendum – it managed to get people who are not very interested to vote. And they’ll vote pro-Brexit on 12th December.”

ConHome: “But does that mean voting for Derek Thomas?”

Stock: “It probably does. There’s a part of me that wants to pin him down to a written statement that he accepts what Boris Johnson said, that we will not extend beyond 2020. He’ll avoid me like the plague.

“So I have to trust Boris Johnson, who I would not trust as far as I could throw him. Do you?”

A retired coach driver stood up for Johnson: “I actually like him. Everybody said he’s going to make a mess. I said no, he’s too intelligent.

“We’ve got to vote Tory down here and get rid of the Lib Dems. They’re signing up with the Greens to stop Brexit.”

Someone else remarked that Andrew George “is actually a decent guy”. The retired coach driver replied: “”Yes, I totally agree with you there, but I can’t vote for him.

“This area has always been a Lib Dem area but I think they’ve shot themselves in the foot [by backing revoke].

“In Newlyn [the fishing port next to Penzance] they voted out. I hope to God the Tories don’t let them down. They’ve got to protect the fishing thing.”

“Everything is a farce,” another man declared. “You had the referendum which had the highest turnout ever. Now the politicians haven’t carried through on the plan they all support. And that’s a farce.

“And it’s not going to get any better. They want to be ruled by Brussels so they don’t have to take any decisions. Easy life for them, isn’t it.

“The less they have to do for their salaries and the more they can concentrate on their company directorships the happier they are.”

A 72-year-old lawyer said: “I take the view that people of my age shouldn’t be voting at all.”

Before the referendum, he accordingly consulted his 11 children, all of whom – except the youngest, who gave no advice – urged him to vote Remain, which he did: “They feel European and they know full well that all the stuff about we’ll have a great future is complete bollocks.”

Stock urged ConHome to conduct research in some other pubs, so we make our way in the rain up Market Jew Street, a name said to be a corruption of the Cornish for Thursday Market, and admired the statue of Sir Humphrey Davy, famous son of Penzance, in front of the granite portico of the Market Building, whose lantern floats above the town.

My guide recited a Clerihew:

Sir Humphrey Davy

Abominated gravy.

He lived in the odium

Of having discovered Sodium.

We entered the Tremenheere pub, where we met a greenkeeper from one of the local golf clubs. He said he usually votes Conservative but doesn’t know who he will back this time: “Who’s got the best lies?”

An unemployed chef said of Brexit in a judicious tone: “I don’t think there’s a completely wrong and right answer to it.”

A couple waiting for some food said they will be voting Lib Dem. After we had left them, I suggested to Stock that there did not seem to be many Lib Dems around.

He corrected this misapprehension: “Liberal Democrat, Remain types – they exist. They’re all over the place. They sit in the corners of pubs.”

He offered his gut feeling about the election result in St Ives: “It’s leaning Lib Dem, but I can’t for the life of me say why. It’s a Brexit area, right?”

Stock insisted no tour of the pubs of Penzance could omit the Seven Stars, a few yards down a street to the left of the Market Building. The pub was animated, eight or ten figures gesticulating at each other in front of the bar, which is decorated with photographs of Marilyn Monroe.

The music was too loud for interviews, but as we stood with one or two smokers in a covered passage outside, a fisherman came out and introduced himself as Matthew Price of the Ajax. He said:

“I don’t know. The country was given the opportunity – we voted out.

“The British Government is looking so weak it’s an embarrassment. We’ve had no one to lead us into Brexit.

“Theresa May – what a pisspoor choice. This country needed someone like Donald Trump.

“Someone who’s totally outspoken. Someone who’s not a politician. This country needs to have a backbone.

“What we need is a strong leader who’s not going to bullshit us.

“I like Boris Johnson for the simple fact he’s a bit outspoken, he’s not afraid to speak his mind, he’s not some political f—ing puppet.

“But I’m a big Margaret Thatcher fan.  She had the balls to shoot the Belgrano in the back.

“She turned round and said, ‘I’m sorry, this is war, it’s in English waters.’

“All I want is can we please have a government that has some backbone. This whole Brexit has been an embarrassment. We look weak on the world stage.”

Price remembered the night of the referendum: “I was on the boat, there was six on the boat, me and the skipper stayed up and watched it all night long.

“This is the biggest thing that’s happened in my lifetime apart from the Eurovision Song Contest.”

High seriousness, jokes and a mercurial sense of independence co-exist in West Cornwall. The Prime Minister might be well advised to go and assure the crew of the Ajax he is not going to let them down.

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WATCH: Johnson’s first election broadcast. “Let’s get Brexit done – and unleash the potential of this whole country.”

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WATCH: No, they don’t. Johnson says Labour wants to spin an election out until “the twelfth of never”

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James Frayne: Why the Conservatives must go negative on Corbyn

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

Should the Conservatives go negative on Corbyn at the next election? After all, a reasonable argument goes, the Party went hard against Corbyn last time and it made no difference; arguably, it was even counter-productive. Why would it be different now? In my view, they’d be mad not to make him a defining feature of their campaign. There are five reasons why.
Firstly, and most importantly, Corbyn’s reputation is in a totally different place to 2017. While it’s true his initial ratings were poor and then surged during the campaign in 2017, it’s highly unlikely the same would happen again. Then, he was essentially an unknown entity and he was introduced to the public amid combat with a desperately poor Conservative candidate. He quickly emerged as a plucky fighter against the apparently unstoppable May-led Conservative Government.

In 2019, people know much more about him and they dislike what they see. Even left-leaning voters have tired of him – believing he can’t hold the Government to account. The Party needs to remind people they’re choosing between specific prime ministerial candidates and specific potential governments. In doing so, there’s less of a risk of creating a unifying force around Corbyn. That doesn’t mean trying to turn the election into a quasi-presidential race – as Boris Johnson is hardly a unifying candidate – but it does mean that the party should be running a contrast campaign with “Corbyn’s Labour”.

Secondly, relatedly, he’s incredibly unpopular with working class swing voters. I’m not entirely sure why, but around a year ago Corbyn’s ratings went off a cliff. They’d been sliding slowly but surely since 2017, but something really changed a year ago. Perhaps it was related to antisemitism, perhaps also to exasperation with the lack of progress on Brexit. As I wrote last time, I’m nervous the Conservatives haven’t done enough to secure the votes of the Midlands and Northern working class (and I’m more nervous having spent much of the week in inner-city Nottingham and Derby). But with Corbyn leading the Labour Party – and the Conservatives making him the only face of the Party – they stand a much better chance of converting these voters.

Thirdly, the Party must ensure he plays the role of a useful prop in their anti-establishment / anti-politics campaign. Last time around, the Conservatives failed to portray the new PM as a change candidate and they paid a heavy price. The public still want change. While the Conservatives can demonstrate change through issues to a degree (tougher crime policies etc), they also need to use the relative character strengths of Boris Johnson against Jeremy Corbyn. In short, people think Boris Johnson is a different sort of politician – someone who’s prepared to smash the system up to deliver change. (Time will tell how much slack the public will cut him for his missed deadline; I think a little).

On the other hand, increasingly Corbyn is looking like “just another politician” who talks in riddles, who doesn’t stand for anything and who you can’t trust. As such, the Conservatives need to endlessly contrast what amounts to “change versus more of the same”. This amounts to a total reversal on 2017 when Corbyn was the anti-politics candidate.

Fourthly, Corbyn is one of the only politicians the public knows, other than Diane Abbott. A very small number of people know about John McDonnell but the rest are unknown. The Conservatives have to focus on Corbyn just to secure traction. There’s no way they can start introducing new politicians to the public at this late stage. Furthermore, the fact remains that Labour’s reputation generally far, far outperforms that of Corbyn. It would make no sense to focus on the Labour Party when the public – including working class swing voters – hold Labour in ultimately pretty high regard.

Fifthly, and finally, the Labour Party will surely be trying to diversify their spokespeople in the next campaign. They’re not stupid; they know they need to promote other voices when Corbyn’s ratings are so poor. In doing so, in using the likes of Angela Rayner and even John McDonnell (who performs well in the media even if his views, were they known, would make many voters queasy) they’re likely to perform better. In turn, the Conservatives will need to stop them doing this and to ensure the public keep picturing Corbyn’s face when they think of Labour.

In short, while there’s a case both that the Conservatives just run a campaign focused entirely on issues (“get Brexit done with us”) or that they sign some positive campaigning pledge, these are outweighed by the need to make this election all about Corbyn.


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