Without Boris Johnson, Tories fear losing northern England’s ‘red wall’

Without Boris Johnson, Tories fear losing northern England’s ‘red wall’

Rishi Sunak speaks during a campaign rally in Darlington on August 9, 2022. Rishi Sunak speaks during a campaign rally in Darlington, August 9, 2022. LINDSEY PARNABY / AFP

Rishi Sunak spoke for half an hour to a thousand members of the British Conservative Party gathered at the Darlington Hippodrome on Tuesday 9 August when the time came for questions from the room. A man stands up and says to him, “You know what they say: He who wields the dagger never wears the crown. Applause accompanies his remark.

Rishi Sunak, one of the two candidates to lead the party, is among those who brought about the ouster of Boris Johnson. When he handed in his resignation as Chancellor of the Exchequer on July 5, he triggered a snowball effect that eventually led to the British Prime Minister’s scheduled resignation.

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In Darlington, northern England, some activists do not forgive him. The disheveled blonde troublemaker was her hero and had her electrified. “It was a mistake to kick him out,” regrets Kane Clarke, 69, who leaves the theater with a glass of white wine. She had become a member of the Tories just over two years ago precisely because she valued this politician who “brought a breath of fresh air”. John Watts, a 59-year-old retired police officer (“I seem less, don’t I?”), confirms: “When I listened to Boris Johnson, I was hooked. At least he wasn’t boring. »

Liz Truss, the other Conservative Party leader and favorite to win, is not wrong. In front of the same activists, she recalls that she did not resign (she is still Foreign Secretary) and never betrayed Boris Johnson. “I was one of the first to support him [en 2019, quand il a pris la tête des tories]. And I don’t think he lied to Parliament,” she said in response to a question from Tom Newton Dunn, the journalist hosting the evening.

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A gaping hole that is difficult to fill

Boris Johnson may have been hated by some Britons, angered his European partners and resented his own MPs, but his political charisma leaves a gaping void that Tory campaigners have struggled to fill. The issue is particularly sensitive in Darlington, a small town of 100,000 between Leeds and Newcastle. In December 2019, the constituency, then a Labor stronghold, switched back to the Conservative camp for the first time since 1992.

That victory was part of the fall of the ‘red wall’, around 40 constituencies in northern England that traditionally voted Labor and switched to the Conservatives in 2019. The north’s right-wing swing laid the foundation for the triumph of Boris Johnson, who won the Conservative Party’s strongest majority in the House of Commons since Margaret Thatcher. He had three main assets for him to bring to the table in these regions: his explosive personality, Brexit (Darlington voted 56%) and a promise to “rebalance the country” to address disparities between North and South reduce.

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