It’s a long shot. But the prime minister’s chances on his home turf in Uxbridge, as across the country, could still be ruined by Nigel Farageby Tom Clark / October 30, 2019 / Leave a comment
Just how wild and mercurial could this election prove to be?
Well, one instructive place to start is with a pub quiz question: who was the last British prime minister to lose his seat? The answer is the Tory Arthur Balfour, who had in fact already resigned just before being crushed in the great Liberal landslide of 1906. While there might be bonus round points for knowing the same fate befell the right-wing Australian premier, John Howard, in 2007, there are none to be had on our own side of the world, where nothing similar has happened in the 113 years since Balfour’s battering at the ballot box.
Why is this relevant? Well, if you speak to Labour’s excitable activists, they think they’ve got a real shot at political decapitation. (And yes, I know in these times the wise counsel is to go easy on violent imagery, but seeing as Boris Johnson has personally argued that a stop-and-think approach in choosing words is to “impoverish” the language, I’m certain he wouldn’t want us to go PC on his account).
Are these activists deluded? Given the opposition’s grim starting point in the opinion polls—averaging just 25 per cent in the latest surveys—you might very well think so. Uxbridge and South Ruislip (and plain Uxbridge before it) has been solidly Conservative for two generations, even returning a Tory with a solid majority in a by-election during Tony Blair’s first heady summer, when Labour was running at well over 50 per cent. Moreover, as psephologist Lewis Baston tells me, prime ministers and other leaders can ordinarily expect a bit of a personal boost.
And yet reports from political cabinet suggest that the prime minister himself flagged CCHQ analysis ranking his seat as being at risk. The case for an upset that would entirely eclipse the “Portillo moment” of 1997 in the collective memory starts with the relatively close result last time. In 2017, Johnson secured a narrow overall majority of the ballot (51 per cent) but a strong Labour showing reduced his lead to 5,000 votes, small enough for it to just about rank as marginal and smaller than any other prime minister’s majority in modern times. The seat is on the edges of London, and the nostalgic and nationalist…