BIRMINGHAM, England — Boris Johnson has already had to try and get the Conservative Party’s election campaign back on track — and it’s only a day old.
The British prime minister rallied the troops on Wednesday night as he promised to push his Brexit deal through parliament from “day one” if he wins the general election on December 12.
“If I come back with a working majority in parliament, then I will get parliament working for you. On day one of the new parliament in December, we will start getting our deal through so we get Brexit done in January and put the uncertainty behind us,” he said.
At an event in Birmingham, his first of the campaign, Johnson also issued a thinly veiled jibe at Brexit Party chief Nigel Farage, taking aim at “some people” who have attacked his deal (Farage has urged the PM to ditch his plan and go for a no-deal Brexit).
“My friends, they are like candle-sellers at the dawn of the electric light bulb,” he said. “Or the makers of typewriters on beholding their first laptop computer. They have a terrible sense that they are about to lose their market. This deal delivers everything that I campaigned for.”
Johnson was speaking to hundreds of Tory activists while flanked by Cabinet ministers in a conference center campaign hall that was far too big even for a prime minister to fill. With its giant screens and enormous banners, as well as Tories in T-shirts bearing campaign slogans and waving placards, it felt at times like a Donald Trump rally.
Miles Power, a 45-year-old Tory association chairman in North Wales, was on Johnson’s side when it comes to Farage, saying the Brexit Party leader’s pledge to fight the Tories on Brexit at the election was “really not in the best interests of the country.”
Ellie King, 24, from Leamington, warned her fellow Tory activists: “It’s going to be a long month and we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves like we did last time [when Theresa May lost her majority in 2017]. It’s always a gamble but we are here to take risks.”
Johnson’s speech came at the end of a tough day for the Tories.
As the prime minister was on his way to meet the queen and formally trigger the election on Wednesday morning, a Cabinet minister was resigning.
Alun Cairns stepped down as secretary of state for Wales after it emerged he knew his former aide had been accused of sabotaging a rape trial before he endorsed him as a candidate for the Welsh Assembly. Cairns had previously said he was unaware of the allegation, which was made by the judge in the case.
Also on Wednesday morning, a second Tory candidate was forced to apologize for comments about victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. Andrew Bridgen, fighting to hold the seat of North West Leicestershire, had suggested Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg would have survived the fire because he is “cleverer” than the victims.
Rees-Mogg had earlier apologized after suggesting the victims should have used “common sense” and ignored fire brigade advice to stay in their flats — although he later insisted he meant fleeing would have been the right thing to do in hindsight.
King, the activist from Leamington, said the first day of campaigning for the Tories was “not looking good.” She added: “I think what Jacob Rees-Mogg said was awful and should not have been said. But he’s apologized, which is a good thing.”
Elsewhere, the Tories were taken to task after it emerged staff had doctored a video of Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer to give the impression he had been unable to answer a question about Brexit. However, the party refused to take the video down, and it was played on news shows throughout the day.
The party also found itself in a row with Sky News after presenter Kay Burley insisted party chairman James Cleverly had backed out of an interview. They filmed an empty chair in the studio in his place. A Tory official insisted Cleverly had not been booked to appear.
Sue Markle, 61, a Tory from Birmingham, said at the campaign rally that maybe the various members of the Tory top brass “shouldn’t have said anything,” telling them “keep your gobs shut.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had a much more positive start to his campaign. After several days focusing on the alleged risks to the NHS from a trade deal with the U.S., he has been gaffe-free.
Speaking to activists in Telford in the West Midlands on Wednesday morning, Corbyn promised to be a “very different kind of prime minister” who would seek power in order to share it.
“A good leader doesn’t just barge through a door and let it swing back in the faces of those following behind,” he said. “A good leader holds open the door for others to walk through. Because everyone has a contribution to make.”
The biggest news from the Labour camp came late Wednesday when deputy leader Tom Watson announced he was stepping down as an MP to “start a different kind of life.”
Watson and Corbyn have frequently been at loggerheads and earlier this year the former set up a group of center-left Labour MPs who felt excluded from the party’s policymaking, while activists unsuccessfully attempted to oust Watson on the first day of the Labour party conference in Brighton in September.
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