It was a straight forward message: “Get Brexit done.”
The mantra of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party during the national election campaign was aimed at harnessing voter frustration at a parliamentary logjam over Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Beyond the traditional strategy of swaying voters in swing districts held by the main opposition Labour Party, Johnson wanted to strike directly at Labour’s heartlands in the hopes of winning support from people who had never voted Conservative but for whom Brexit had come to trump even traditional party allegiances.
By Friday morning in Britain, Johnson’s Conservative Party had secured a majority of the 650 seats in the House of Commons. The result handed Johnson his first national election victory but also delivered a dramatic blow to his main competitor, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose Labour Party suffered heavy losses.
For 55-year old Johnson, who only entered Downing Street this summer after his Conservative predecessor resigned, calling an election had been a high-stakes gamble.
But he also considered it a necessity to convert his party’s minority in the House of Commons into a majority and move his government’s agenda forward. Notably, that includes Britain – the world’s fifth largest economy – exiting the European Union by the end of January, which would mark the country’s most significant trade and foreign policy move since World War Two.
The five-week campaign also saw Johnson facing questions about his personal trustworthiness after his repeated failed promises during the year to deliver Brexit by the end of October “do or die.”
He faced allegations of failing to disclose close personal ties with a U.S. businesswoman who had received thousands of pounds in public business funding while he had been mayor. Jennifer Arcuri publicly said during the campaign she had had “a very special relationship” with Johnson, who has denied any impropriety. A government audit report ruled that a ministerial department’s decision to award a 100,000 pound ($128,000) grant to a company run by Arcuri was appropriate.
The plan early in the campaign was to target around 40 traditionally Labour supporting seats in northern and central England, a party source close to the campaign said. Johnson launched the Conservative campaign battle bus in Middleton in northwest England, in a district with a slim Labour majority but which saw 62% of voters back Brexit in 2016.
“The strategy is to woo Brexit Party supporters of all colours and to specifically court Labour leave voters especially in the North and Midlands,” said the source, speaking on Oct. 29, the day the House of Commons approved an early election.
“The themes are people versus parliament, let’s get Brexit done and move on, and a very merry Brexit to everyone.”
As the results of Thursday’s election rolled in, it became clear that the Conservatives had succeeded in scooping up seats in districts that had voted Labour for generations, including places like Bishop Auckland and Sedgefield, the seat held by former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair. However, Johnson’s party had lost seats in some more pro-EU constituencies, such as Putney in London.
(Production: Chris Read, Alex Fraser, Helena Williams, Eileen Hsieh, Ciara Lee)