Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited former strongholds of his Labour opponents in northern England yesterday and pledged to repay their trust for helping to deliver a stunning victory for his Conservative Party in Britain’s national election.
Johnson led the Conservatives on Thursday to their biggest election win since Margaret Thatcher’s victory of 1987, trouncing his Labour Party foe Jeremy Corbyn by capturing 365 parliamentary seats and securing an overall majority of 80.
Labour won 203 seats.
The election saw the crumbling of Labour’s “Red Wall” of formerly safe seats in working-class areas across northern and central England where most people voted in a 2016 referendum to leave the European Union.
Johnson, the face of the “Leave” campaign in that referendum, fought the election on the slogan “Get Brexit done”.
“I know that people may have been breaking the voting habits of generations to vote for us,” Johnson told supporters in Sedgefield, a symbolically important seat as it was once held by former prime minister Tony Blair, Labour’s most successful leader. “I want the people of the northeast to know that we in the Conservative Party, and I, will repay your trust.”
Brexit was widely seen as the decisive factor in the election, with Johnson’s promise to take Britain out of the EU by January 31, 2020, winning over many former Labour voters.
“What an incredible thing you have done, you have changed the political landscape, you’ve changed the Conservative Party for the better and you’ve changed the future of our country for the better,” said Johnson. “First of all, what are we going to do to repay that trust? We are going to get Brexit done.”
Johnson, who called the snap election to break years of deadlock in parliament over Brexit, has also promised to spend more money on health, education and the police.
Addressing newly-elected Conservative lawmakers, Johnson evoked Blair’s own words on taking office.
“When we get down to Westminster and we begin our work, remember we are not the masters, we are the servants now ... and our job is to serve the people of this country and to deliver on our priorities. And our priorities and their priorities are the same,” he said.
Johnson told the new Tory MPs and local activists that they had changed the political landscape, the Conservative party and the country for the better.
In a pantomime-style call and response, the prime minister ran through the Conservative party’s main manifesto promises, including the misleading pledges to build 40 new hospitals and recruit 50,000 more nurses, and to employ 20,000 police.
“What we want to do as Conservatives [is] we want to take our country forwards, but we want to do it by uniting and levelling up across the whole of the UK,” he said.
This would be achieved by investing in infrastructure across the country and spreading opportunity.
He added: “Our country has now embarked on a wonderful adventure. We are going to recover our national self-confidence, our mojo, our self-belief.”
Speaking outside No 10 on Friday, Johnson had said he would “work round the clock” to repay the trust of those who had voted Conservative for the first time.
His comments were later echoed by Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, who said the government planned to redirect investment towards those communities that felt they were not being heard.
“We are very grateful to these traditional Labour voters, in many cases, for lending us their support on this occasion, perhaps because of Brexit,” Jenrick told BBC’s Newsnight on Friday. “We need to earn that trust now and hopefully we will have five years ahead of us to do that.”
Earlier yesterday, the deputy general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said if Johnson wanted to retain the support of voters in the Midlands and northeast, he needed to stand by promises to engage with the issues that motivated them.
Nowak urged Johnson to “put your money where your mouth is, engage with the unions, engage with working people” to get a Brexit deal that protected workers’ rights.
“You know, there are some contradictions in the prime minister’s position,” Nowak told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “He said, I think, before the election that he wants to protect and enhance employment rights, but if you look at that withdrawal bill, it delivers none of those protections.
“I think the government needs to now widen the conversation to include businesses, to include trade unions, to think about what this future relationship looks like.
“And I think our message clearly to Boris Johnson would be to put people before politics, to deliver a Brexit deal that does protect jobs and employment rights, and I think that means getting a right deal not just a quick deal.
“And I think it does mean standing by the commitments he’s made to those voters in the northeast and in the Midlands who may have voted for the first time.”
He added: “A deal that threatens jobs and people’s employment isn’t a deal that we can live with.”
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