Boris Johnson is bracing for a ‘mega-tough’ election battle today – amid warnings he needs to win 50 Labour seats to offset losses to Remainers in Scotland and the South.
The brutal clashes come as Tory strategists finalise their plans for an incredibly volatile campaign, where local factors are expected to play a pivotal role.
They are set to target ‘Workington Man’ – older, white, non-graduate male voters living in swing seats in the North of England.
Experts have warned that Mr Johnson’s strident call to ‘get Brexit done’ and blueprint for a loose, Canada-style relationship with the EU could lose his party at least 20 seats to the unashamedly pro-Remain Lib Dems and SNP.
Key battlegrounds will include Cheltenham in Gloucestershire and Stirling north of the border.
To offset the anticipated losses the Conservatives must make significant progress against Labour – probably requiring at least 50 gains to get Mr Johnson the working majority that he craves.
A graphic showing where the vote will be won and lost throughout the country in the snap poll taking place on December 12
Boris Johnson (left in Downing Street last night) is facing off with Jeremy Corbyn (right leaving his London home this morning) in the Commons later
The campaign is getting under way after MPs finally backed a Government Bill for a poll on Thursday, December 12, after weeks of dither and delay by opposition parties.
Mr Johnson said a ‘revitalised’ House of Commons would let Britain leave the EU in the new year.
Jeremy Corbyn, who backed an election just 24 hours after refusing to do so, said Labour would kick out the ‘reckless’ Conservatives and deliver a socialist Britain.
Will Boris Johnson switch to a safer seat?
The PM faces a tough fight to hold his own constituency – leading to claims he could switch to a safer seat to avoid the risk of humiliation.
Boris Johnson is MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, where he has a majority of just 5,034 over Labour.
It would take a swing of just over 5 per cent to snatch the seat – and Corbynista group Momentum will target it with hundreds of volunteers.
Their ‘Unseat Boris’ campaign would make Mr Johnson the first premier to lose his seat in an election in modern times. Labour claims he will announce in the next few days that he will take the ‘chicken run’ and stand for a seat with a much larger Tory majority.
Downing Street described the rumours as ‘tosh and nonsense’.
Uxbridge in West London – traditionally true blue – has been represented by Mr Johnson since 2015. When he first stood, he clocked up a majority of 10,695. But this halved in Theresa May’s disastrous election of 2017.
Labour has chosen Ali Milani, a 25-year-old Muslim, as their candidate.
The Prime Minister told MPs the election – the first in December since 1923 – would deliver Brexit after months of ‘unrelenting parliamentary obstructionism’.
He later addressed Tory backbenchers, giving what one claimed was a ‘King Henry V to Agincourt-type speech’.
He told them the campaign would be ‘mega-tough’, and urged them to pull out all the stops for victory.
Conservative MP Robert Halfon said: ‘He said forget about the polls, forget about everything you read, this is going to be an incredibly tough election.
‘No one wants to do an election in December, it’s going to be mega-tough and it’s going to be one of the toughest elections we could ever do.’
The election breakthrough came after the Liberal Democrats and SNP broke ranks with Labour and backed an early poll in which they hope to benefit from Mr Corbyn’s unpopularity with voters.
But election experts yesterday warned a 2019 vote – the third General Election in four years – was likely to be the most unpredictable thanks to the prevalence of smaller parties.
One said the election could result in a House of Commons with as many as 100 MPs from neither the Conservatives nor Labour, making it even harder for either of the main parties to win a majority – opening the door to a hung Parliament and yet further delay over Brexit.
The study by Onward, a Right-leaning think-tank, said today’s swing voter was no longer ‘Worcester Woman’ – seen as a key figure in Tony Blair’s victory in 1997 – but ‘Workington Man’ – named after the town in Cumbria.
He is said to be a typically older, white, non-graduate voter living in rugby league towns in the North. This voter has lived in his home for more than ten years as either a council tenant or owner occupier. He favours security over freedom, thinks the economy and national culture is moving away from his views, and voted Leave.
He works in a skilled manual trade or in a lower managerial role and is likely to live in a town or rural area rather than a city. He is more supportive than most people of a strong leader who does not have to bother with Parliament.
Workington Man wants government to prioritise apprenticeships rather than cut the cost of student loans and thinks it should promote a shared sense of national identity over a diversity of identities.
Jo Swinson’s (left) Liberal Democrats will target Remain-leaning seats in London and the South West and Nicola Sturgeon
The likely manifestos for Boris Johnson’s Tories and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party for the upcoming December 12 election
He is more likely than the rest of the population to think crime is a major issue facing the country and twice as likely to think immigration is a major issue.
He is particularly sceptical about the benefits of globalisation and thinks we have a special responsibility to protect local institutions such as pubs and post offices from closure.
Onward said without the support of Workington Man, a party cannot win a majority. The Labour-held constituency in which these characteristics are most common among voters is the Cumbrian town of Workington, making it the ultimate bellwether seat in the next election.
Crosby acolyte leading the election fight
He is unknown outside Westminster, but 35-year-old Australian Isaac Levido will play a key role in Boris Johnson’s campaign.
A close confidant of fellow countryman Lynton Crosby, Mr Levido is director of politics and campaigning at Conservative Campaign Headquarters.
He will be pivotal in decisions on how the Tories try to defeat Labour and win a majority. He is a protege of Sir Lynton, the electoral strategist known as the ‘Wizard of Oz’ who worked on Mr Johnson’s two winning London mayoral campaigns.
In 2015 and 2017, Mr Levido was in charge of Tory campaign messages.
He recently served as the Australian Liberal Party’s deputy director and was at the heart of the campaign that saw Scott Morrison clinch a surprise win. Under plans drawn up by Mr Levido, the Tories are targeting 50 swing seats and defending 50.
He has told ministers he wants to secure a ‘functional’ majority. Privately, he has described Mr Johnson’s ‘fundamentals’ as ‘very positive’.
‘The numbers are moving in the right direction,’ he said.
Workington is a long-standing Labour seat held by Sue Hayman, which voted Leave and has a 4,000 majority.
Will Tanner, director of Onward, said: ‘This election will be the most volatile in living memory and no party should be complacent. But it is clear that the Conservatives’ path to victory runs through working-class rugby league towns like Workington, Warrington and Wigan, which usually do not give them a second thought – as well as the party’s leafy heartlands in the South of England.’
Workington, Warrington and Wigan, which usually do not give them a second thought – as well as the party’s leafy heartlands in the South of England.’
The seven towns that were founding members of rugby’s Super League – Castleford, Halifax, Oldham, St Helens, Warrington, Wigan, Workington – have returned only one Tory MP in every ten elections since 1918 and currently have a median Labour majority of 13,273.
Mr Johnson had previously sought to get an election through a provision in the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act that allows an early poll only if it is backed by two thirds of MPs.
This effectively gave Labour a veto but the backing of the minor parties allowed Mr Johnson to sidestep Mr Corbyn and bring in legislation for an early election that required only a simple majority in the Commons.
Sensing defeat, the Labour leader yesterday performed a U-turn and told his MPs he was now backing an election less than 24 hours after ordering them to block one.
Mr Corbyn last night said Labour would launch ‘the most ambitious and radical campaign for real change that our country has ever seen’.
PM brings 10 Tory rebels back into the fold
Boris Johnson has restored the Tory whip to 10 of the 21 former Conservative rebels who were expelled after backing a bid to block a No Deal Brexit.
The Prime Minister met with the 10 MPs in his House of Commons office this evening as they were offered the chance to return to the Tory fold.
All 10 accepted the PM’s offer and will now be able to stand as Tory candidates at the forthcoming snap general election if they want to.
The 10 who have had the Tory whip restored are: Alistair Burt, Caroline Nokes, Greg Clark, Sir Nicholas Soames, Ed Vaizey, Margot James, Richard Benyon, Stephen Hammond, Steve Brine and Richard Harrington.
The remaining 11 rebels, including Philip Hammond and Ken Clarke, have not been welcomed back.
However, a Tory source said that this evening’s events do not mean that the remaining 11 will be permanently deprived of the whip as they suggested there could still be a way back for the PM’s critics.
But veteran Labour MP Barry Sheerman said it was ‘sheer madness’ to hold an early election.
Fellow Labour MP Kevan Jones said: ‘I will not be backing an election under any circumstances – it’s playing right into Boris Johnson’s hands.’ Another Labour MP said: ‘It is mad that we are backing this. We are going to get stuffed.’
Labour MPs made a last-ditch attempt to wreck the election bid by trying to extend the vote to EU nationals and 16- and 17-year-olds. Downing Street insisted there was not enough time to register millions of new voters.
In a significant intervention that could boost his hopes of succeeding John Bercow, deputy Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle ruled that the amendments should not be debated.
Downing Street is confident that Mr Johnson can return a ‘workable’ majority in December, despite being foiled in his ‘do or die’ pledge to take Britain out of the EU by October 31.
Senior Tories point to a run of opinion polls giving the Conservatives a double-digit lead. Polling also suggested that Mr Corbyn is the most unpopular opposition leader of all time.
But polling expert Sir John Curtice has warned that Britain could be on course for another hung parliament, in what could be the most unpredictable election of modern times.
Writing in the Times today, Sir John said at least 20 Tory seats are at risk from the SNP and Lib Dems.
He pointed out that the Lib Dems had ‘revived’ in the polls at around 18 per cent, and SNP support in Scotland was similar to 2017 levels.
‘That means Mr Johnson probably has to accept that he is likely to lose at least 20 seats to the Lib Dems and SNP, and maybe rather more than that,’ Sir John wrote.
‘The Conservatives will have to gain some seats from Labour simply to match the 318 seats Theresa May won last time.
‘However, if the substantial net swing from Labour to Conservative in the present polls were to be realised at the ballot box, there are nearly 50 Labour seats that could fall into the Tory column. Winning those would more than compensate for losses elsewhere.’
Sir John said those targeet constituencies were ‘disproportionately located in the north of England and the Midlands’. In those areas around 55 per cent of voters supported Leave in 2016, higher than the 52 per cent across the country as a whole.
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