BE careful what you wish for, it is said, because there could be unforeseen and unpleasant consequences if you get your heart’s desire.
Forget rediscovering some spurious ‘mojo’. In the months ahead, this might be a useful idiom for both the Prime Minister and the overwhelming number of Yorkshire people who gave the Tories a 80-seat Commons last Thursday, the party’s largest since 1987.
I am imagining that even a man with an ego as inflated as Boris Johnson’s must be slightly perplexed as to why Wakefield, Don Valley, Rother Valley and so many other former Labour redoubts in our region turned so resoundingly from red to blue last week.
Yes, these are conservative people, but perhaps not the kind he imagines them to be. Mr Johnson is fond of comparing himself to the great wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill, who famously had little time for the miners, but managed to rally the jolly old working class as he took on the forces of Nazi Germany. He should cease such delusions immediately.
‘In favour of Conservative’ does not mean ‘Conservative’, not in the sense that Mr Johnson might understand it anyway.
I’d advise him to look up the dictionary definition – ‘holding traditional values and averse to change or innovation’ – and deconstruct it carefully.
The first part I’d definitely agree with. I know these ‘conservative’, careful people. Apart from my X in the box last Thursday, I am one.
Our communities are (still pretty much) built on solid values, respect, appreciation of traditions and a strong belief in family structures. We stick together because so much has happened – de-industrialisation, unemployment, austerity – that tried to pull us apart. Years of isolation from a disinterested Westminster have added fuel to that spirit of independence, reflected in the One Yorkshire movement.
‘Averse to change or innovation’ however? That’s a trickier one. I was saddened to hear of friends who resignedly voted ‘Boris’ because he was the least-worst option, and frustrated that so many people seemed unable to hold two opposing ideas in their head at the same time.
However, what bigger change or innovation is there than to throw your support behind a party which until now, was probably political anathema? That’s where Labour’s campaign got it so wrong and the Tories gained; it blithely assumed that Northern voters were some mythical band of trade-union-belonging, nationalisation-supporting brothers. And it failed to appreciate that they’re just like everyone else these days worried about their income tax, mortgage interest and pension.
There are other things the Prime Minister needs to know. It turned out to be the ‘Brexit election’ after all and this has skewed perceptions. Time and again, Northerners justified their switched allegiance because the Conservatives were the only party with the clear ‘let’s get Brexit done’ purpose.
On one level, it’s as simple as that; these were generally constituencies which voted overwhelmingly in favour of ‘Leave’, so it stands to reason that, come the crunch, they would back the candidate who represented their view.
And the other big thing, of course, is the abject failure of Labour’s current leadership to convince voters in Northern constituencies that it spoke to them and for them. It’s so tempting to define this seismic event not as what it shows Mr Johnson to be, but what it showed the Labour leader to be not.
Some of this lack of trust was down to Labour’s obfuscation about Leave/Remain, but most of it was due to Jeremy Corbyn himself.
What Mr Johnson must remind himself of every day, as he surveys the ruins of the ‘red wall’ and looks over his sea of blue, is that he might not even in Downing Street at all if Labour had gone into the election under a different leader.
He needs to practice this because once Brexit is indeed ‘done’, and the tide of ‘Leave, leave, leave’ fervour recedes, the NHS, trains and buses, police numbers, steady employment and lack of regional investment will be washed up on the shore along with all the other things that the conservative people of the North have been assured about in recent weeks.
This General Election has proven that the North does indeed remember, and not necessarily in the way you might expect. What Mr Johnson needs to remember himself is that the converse is also true; it will not forget broken promises either.