How bludgeoning Boris Johnson is becoming an electoral liability on streets of Yorkshire – Andrew Vine

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NO apologies, however inflammatory the language. No compromise, however much the country needs it. No prospect of healing divisions.

This is the attitude of the Prime Minister and the Government he leads, and it isn’t just unsettling political rivals, but increasing numbers of the Conservatives who put him in to office.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares for a TV interview at the Tory conference which has been overshadowed by questions about his personal conduct.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares for a TV interview at the Tory conference which has been overshadowed by questions about his personal conduct.

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Over the past few days, half a dozen Tory members from Yorkshire have told me of their unease at the deliberately confrontational stance taken by Boris Johnson at the behest of his unappealing Svengali, chief adviser Dominic Cummings.

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And they’re not alone. Their friends in the constituency parties feel the same because the man they’re seeing hurling insults and refusing to apologise for stoking divisions isn’t the one they voted for.

Theresa May's personal values enver became discredited by her political failings as Prime Minister.

Theresa May's personal values enver became discredited by her political failings as Prime Minister.

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Yes, they wanted him to get tough with the EU and deliver Brexit, but didn’t see this brutish relish for fomenting conflict coming when voting for him to succeed Theresa May only a few short months ago.

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They were backing the man with the instinctive knack for campaigning who did so much to sway the electorate towards voting to leave the EU, the proven winner who put Labour to flight in the London Mayor years.

Boris Johnson at the Tory conference in Manchester - is he an electoral asset or liability?

Boris Johnson at the Tory conference in Manchester - is he an electoral asset or liability?

But the man with cross-party appeal who would rather charm and cajole opponents round to his way of thinking has vanished, and the Tory members I’ve spoken to don’t like what has emerged in his place.

That’s because charming, enthusiastic, engaging Boris was always going to be an asset on Yorkshire’s doorsteps when election time came, but bludgeoning Boris who was so crassly dismissive of warnings about where aggressive language can lead after Jo Cox’s murder, is now toxic.

These Conservatives know what Mr Johnson and Mr Cummings choose to ignore – that the horror at Mrs Cox’s killing ran especially deep in our county. It crossed party lines and transcended age, race and class.

Mr Johnson’s blatant contempt for those worried that the antagonism he is displaying could end in violence plays particularly badly in Yorkshire, and grassroots Tories are deeply concerned by the tone he is striking, not only because it harms their chances of winning over Labour voters who supported Brexit.

Boris Johnson says his priority is to deliver Brexit by October 31.

Boris Johnson says his priority is to deliver Brexit by October 31.

It offends them, and runs counter to both their personal code and the values that they believe their party should embody. Condemnation by Sir John Major and Amber Rudd of the tone being struck is closer to their own feelings than the snarls coming out of Downing Street.

And for Mr Cummings to say late last week that MPs should expect anger from voters for failing to deliver Brexit only deepens their concerns, as did his assertion that the Johnson camp was “enjoying” the conflicts.

Some of these Conservatives are at their party’s conference in Manchester, and will dutifully join the standing ovation that is expected of them for Mr Johnson’s speech tomorrow.

But they will do so with reservations, since the message he will preach is one of setting people against Parliament. This is the politics of deliberately causing offence and whipping up anger amongst leave-supporting voters by weaving a narrative of betrayal of their wishes.

It may work in seeing off the threat from Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, but the Tory members I know don’t like it. Most of them go back to the Thatcher years, and they helped to deliver election victories for her, John Major and David Cameron without resorting to such tactics.

Their age has much to do with it. They have been around long enough to know that the Conservatives do best when they speak up for widely-held values of decency and common-sense government.

Not so very long ago, they embraced Theresa May as the party’s leader for those very reasons, and even when they grew disillusioned at her dismal performance in office, their respect for her personal values never wavered.

There is a creeping suspicion that Mr Johnson isn’t the winner they thought he was going to be. Despite all the bluster, he’s in a worse position in Parliament than even Mrs May found herself.

Yorkshire Tories who thought he would swat opposition parties without much trouble are discomfited to find them optimistic and feeling they have got the Government on the ropes.

The rapidity of the decline in Tory fortunes has also unsettled them. Mr Johnson’s first weeks in office were good news for their constituencies, especially his pledge to improve Yorkshire’s trans-Pennine rail links.

But that has been cancelled out by the sudden descent into conflict as a strategy. They will still be Mr Johnson’s loyal foot-soldiers in the battle for re-election, but a question nags at them. If voters share their unease at this gleeful exploitation of division, what is to become of the Tories?