Star comment: Every vote must be earned

Boris Johnson swept in to the West Midlands like some emperor making a visit to territory won by a fragile victory, armed with promises and assurances to keep the locals onside.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Hard to remember now, but not long ago a lot of Tory MPs didn't want him as leader, and one or two went as far to say they would not serve under him.

However, having a USP of actually winning polls is helpful in changing hearts and minds. Yet it has taken just one by-election result to alter the mood. Losing the former safe seat at Chesham and Amersham has introduced a nagging doubt.

Batley and Spen too, where Labour actually succeeded in winning a Labour seat in the North, although a slim 323-vote majority doesn't suggest a major resurgence just yet.

"Levelling up" is a phrase which trips readily off the Prime Minister's lips. It was on the agenda again during his visit to Coventry, where there are plans in the pipeline for a new electric car factory creating 6,000 jobs.

But what does "levelling up" mean? Naturally he is keen to reject the accusation that it means turning his back on the wealthier south.

Should that perception gain traction, it will be electorally dangerous for the Conservatives, and the shock at Chesham and Amersham is seen as a warning shot across the bows from traditional Tory voters who fear that they are being ignored or taken for granted.

To his opponents, the electoral popularity of Boris Johnson is a mystery. They think he is a buffoon, and worse, and that he must at some stage be found out by the voting public.

With the country learning to move on from Brexit, and the glimpses of sunshine starting to peek through the dark coronavirus clouds, attention will increasingly focus on how and if he will deliver on those promises which are the stuff of political normal times, and his "levelling up" agenda falls squarely in that category.

It's not an overnight strategy, but people in the Midlands and the North will be looking for concrete signs of intent to back up the fine words, and are armed with the means to punish any backsliding – when handed ballot papers.

As Labour has found to its cost, in modern politics there are no longer votes safely in the bank. Every vote has to be earned now.

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