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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Colin Drury

‘Box office?’ Boris Johnson avoids high street where local MP claimed he was still big draw

Twitter/Mark Jenkinson

When asked two weeks ago if scandal-hit Boris Johnson was still popular in the totemic red wall constituency of Workington, local Conservative MP Mark Jenkinson responded unambiguously. “Definitely,” he said. “If I took the PM to [the] high street tomorrow, he would draw crowds. He would still be box office.”

Mr Johnson himself, it seems, is not convinced.

During his first visit to the Cumbrian town as prime minister this week, he kept firmly away from the high street – or anything resembling the public.

Rather, amid ongoing fears of a Partygate backlash, Mr Johnson’s trip was kept secret in advance and then boiled down to meeting approved guests only – Tory members mainly – at an out-of-town hotel.

“Box office?” noted independent area councillor Paul Scott. “More like the actions of a fugitive, skulking about in the hopes he won’t be seen.

“He’s running scared and, frankly, it’s beyond parody. You have the local MP trying to convince us all the man would be given a hero’s welcome but he can’t even convince Boris himself that he wouldn’t receive a piece of people’s minds.”

The town has become closely associated with Mr Johnson since “Workington man” became the label for a voter demographic – northern, working class, once loyal to Labour – seen as key to winning the 2019 election.

The constituency was seen as symbolic of that year’s landslide after Mr Jenkinson won it for the Tories for the first time since 1976.

But the revelation that Mr Johnson visited without so much as offering a public thanks to those who broke with habit and voted Tory two years ago suggests the PM may not be quite so confident such support remains, following revelations he broke coronavirus laws by attending Downing Street parties during lockdown.

Mr Scott, a 55-year-old pub landlord who sits on Allerdale Borough Council, said: “Don’t get me wrong, some people still like him up here. But these parties have changed things. People up here say things as they are, and they don’t like people who are dishonest.”

Mr Jenkinson said the PM’s trip had been cut short by the Ukraine crisis. Downing Street said the visit was a party political one and it would, therefore, not be commenting.

A Conservative Party spokesperson appeared unconcerned by the optics of Mr Johnson apparently running scared of meeting the public. “Conservative Party leader meets with Conservative Party members,” they told The Independent. “Hold the front page.”

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