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

Rishi Sunak has been speaking for half an hour, Tuesday, August 9, in front of a thousand members of the British Conservative Party gathered at the Darlington Hippodrome when the time for questions from the room arrives. A man stands up and says to him: “You know what they say: he who wields the dagger never wears the crown. » A round of applause greets his remark.

Rishi Sunak, one of the two candidates to lead the Party, is among those who precipitated the downfall of Boris Johnson. By handing in his resignation on July 5, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he caused a snowball effect that ultimately led to the programmed departure of the British Prime Minister.

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In Darlington, in the north of England, some of the activists do not forgive him. The disheveled blond troublemaker was their hero and had electrified them. “It was a mistake to throw him out”, regrets Kane Clarke, 69, who sips a glass of white wine at the exit of the theater. She became a Tory member just over two years ago precisely because she liked this politician who “Brought a breath of fresh air”. John Watts, 59-year-old retired police officer (“I seem less, don’t I? »), confirms: “When I listened to Boris Johnson, he kept me spellbound. He, at least, wasn’t boring. »

Liz Truss, the other candidate for leader of the Conservative Party, and favorite to win, is not mistaken. In front of the same activists, she recalls that she has not resigned (she is still Minister of Foreign Affairs) and has 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 believe he lied to Parliament.”she says, answering a question from Tom Newton Dunn, the journalist who hosts the evening.

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A gaping hole that is hard to fill

Boris Johnson may have been hated by some Britons, exasperated his European partners and resented his own MPs, but his political charisma leaves a gaping hole that Conservative activists are struggling to fill. The question is particularly sensitive in Darlington, a small town of a hundred thousand inhabitants located between Leeds and Newcastle. In December 2019, the constituency, then a Labor stronghold, swung to the Conservative camp for the first time since 1992.

This victory was part of the downfall of the “red wall”, around 40 constituencies in the north of England which traditionally voted Labor and switched to the Conservatives in 2019. The swing to the right in the north of the country was the bedrock of the triumph of Boris Johnson, who brought back for the Conservative Party his largest majority in the House of Commons since Margaret Thatcher. He had for him three key assets to put forward in these regions: his explosive personality, Brexit (Darlington voted for 56%) and a promise of “rebalance the country”to reduce inequalities between North and South.

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