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. It worked.
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.
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.
“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.
Johnson and his team concluded that the only way to change the arithmetic in the House of Commons was to force a new election. But he needed a united front – no easy feat for a party where the issue of Europe has caused infighting and played a role in the downfall of the previous four Conservative prime ministers.
The election campaign officially started in early November and Johnson sought to convince voters that his party was the only one which could break the impasse among politicians in Westminster to enable the country to move forward.
The campaign focused heavily on core Brexit-related messages and was relatively light on policy detail, several members of his campaign team said.
Johnson’s pitch included a pledge to lower immigration and that Brexit would free up money that Britain would otherwise pay to the EU that could be redirected to spending on public services, including the NHS, at home.
One pledge was to add 50,000 more nurses but, under scrutiny from the opposition and media, the prime minister acknowledged that 19,000 were already working in the NHS, adding that his policies would retain those workers that might otherwise leave.
During an October 13 visit to the northern town of Doncaster, a female member of the public accused him of peddling fiction by promising a rosy future for Britain outside of the EU and being part of a government that had made cuts to public services.
Johnson has repeatedly said that any breach of trust should be blamed on parliament, not him.
Conservative strategists considered Johnson’s personal popularity and proven ability to reach across party lines a key election asset. The charismatic politician helped lead the successful Brexit campaign in the 2016 referendum and is the only Conservative to have been London mayor.
By contrast, recent polls have ranked Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn the least popular opposition leader in decades.
In the final days of the campaign, Johnson crisscrossed districts in the north and central England, regions where Labour has traditionally had strong support.
At a factory of British construction equipment maker JCB near Uttoxeter in central England on Tuesday, Johnson drove a digger emblazoned with “get Brexit done” through a makeshift wall emblazoned with the word “GRIDLOCK.”