Daniel McConnell: How a few choice words got Johnson elected

Three little words, “Yes, We Can”, were all it took for Barack Obama to win the US presidency in 2008.

Daniel McConnell: How a few choice words got Johnson elected

Three little words, “Yes, We Can”, were all it took for Barack Obama to win the US presidency in 2008.

And it only took Boris Johnson the same amount to win so comprehensively in the British election.

The mantra of “Get Brexit Done”, delicious in its simplicity, clearly connected with a majority of UK voters, whether they be traditional Tories or disenchanted Labour voters who could not stomach supporting Jeremy Corbyn.

Denounced by the Guardian’s leading writers as “empty” and “vacuous,” the Get Brexit Done mantra was a more powerful message than Theresa May’s “Strong and Stable” slogan in 2017, which failed.

Get Brexit Done was an active promise to deliver something tangible and quickly.

And it worked.

After an embittered campaign, typified by misinformation, disinformation, downright lies, highly questionable journalism by professionals who should have known better, the power of those three words delivered Johnson the largest majority the Tories have enjoyed since the days of Margaret Thatcher in 1987.

Recognising the success of the slogan, as the near 80-seat majority result was confirmed in the early hours of Friday morning, the Johnson team launched another three-word slogan: “the people’s government”.

Johnson has secured his own mandate and looks set to govern for the next decade.

When you consider the Conservatives have been in office since 2010, that, for Labour supporters, is a devastating vista.

In his victory speech, Johnson, too, recognised those voters who traditionally voted Labour, but who lent their vote to him.

“I have a message to all those who voted for us yesterday, especially those who voted for us Conservatives, one nation Conservatives, for the first time. You may only have lent us your vote and you may not think of yourself as a natural Tory.

“And, as I think I said 11 years ago to the people of London, when I was elected in what was thought of as a Labour city, your hand may have quivered over the ballot paper as you put your cross in the Conservative box and you may intend to return to Labour next time round.

“And if that is the case, I am humbled that you have put your trust in me and that you have put your trust in us,” he said.

The desertion of key Labour strongholds to the Tories represented a total rejection of Corbynism and blew a gaping hole in the pre-election talk of the race closing or being neck-and-neck, as some deluded characters led us tobelieve.

Devouring scores of Labour seats in its traditional heartland, Johnson’s vote was only 1.2% higher than Theresa May’s in 2017, but it was where those votes came from that made the difference.

Seats like Bassetlaw, Dudley North, Leigh, Scunthorpe, Great Grimsby, Redcar, Rother Valley, and even the old constituency of Tony Blair, Sedgefield, all fell to the Tories.

For example, Dudley North has only ever voted Labour, but voted ‘Leave’ in the 2016 referendum by a 61% majority and has now gone Tory for the first time.

The Labour vote in Sedgefield collapsed by 17%.

The veteran Labour Party left-wing firebrand, Dennis Skinner, lost his seat in Bolsover. He lost out to Mark Fletcher by a margin of over 5,000 votes.

Having held the seat for almost 50 years, the 87-year-old Skinner would have been the longest-serving lawmaker in parliament’s next term — known as the “Father of the House” — if he had won.

A quick analysis of the opinion polls in recent days and weeks showed a consistently high number of voters who were in the “don’t know” category.

Similarly to 1992, when Labour’s Neil Kinnock looked assured of victory, only to be beaten by John Major, many people could not bring themselves to declare their intention to vote for Johnson.

The so-called “shy Tory” effect strikes again.

As the Guardian described it: “Labour hearts shattered at the stroke of 10pm Thursday night.

When the main broadcasters’ exit poll dropped as the hour turned, it delivered the news that activists had dreaded most: An early indication that Boris Johnson had achieved the landslide victory he craved by delivering the biggest Conservative majority for more than 30 years.

From Labour’s perspective, it was as bad as it can get.

Based on this result and the manner of it, the 18 years Labour spent in opposition before Tony Blair led them into office, in 1997, appears like it can be overtaken.

But, looking ahead, what does this decisive Johnson win mean?

Well, what is absolutely clear is that the UK will now leave the EU by the end of January.

One could hear the palpable sigh of relief from the EU summit in Brussels, when the exit poll results landed on Thursday night.

As voiced by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney, the result puts an end to the inability of the British prime minister to get legislation passed through the House of Commons.

“I think it’s a positive thing that we have the decisive outcome in Britain in their elections,” the Taoiseach told reporters as he arrived at the summit on Friday.

“We had, for a few years, a parliament that wasn’t able to form a majority around anything. We now, clearly, have a majority in the House of Commons to ratify the withdrawal agreement,” he added.

Varadkar said the next step is to ratify that withdrawal agreement, which guarantees no hard border between North and South.

It guarantees the protection of the common travel area, and also the fact that British and Irish citizens’ rights will be protected, he said.

Varadkar said he is “keen to work very hard” with Johnson on getting the executive assembly up and running again in Northern Ireland.

“I think that’s absolutely crucial now; that has to be a key priority for the next couple of weeks.

And then we go on to the next phase of Brexit, which is negotiating a mighty new future economic partnership between the EU and the UK and I think that can be done,” he said.

If all goes to plan and the withdrawal agreement is passed by the end of January, it opens the door to a general election here by the end of February.

Very few people at all are giving the Varadkar administration any chance of remaining in office until May, which has been his stated preferred date for an election.

Having taken the Tories’ advice on to how to run an election in 2016, you might think Fine Gael would be slow to repeat that disaster.

We all remember their disastrous slogan of “Keep the Recovery Going”.

Their only hope of retaining office is that they get a bounce from the public on the conclusion of a Brexit deal in the new year.

However, following a bruising few weeks for the Government and a palpable sense of its party structure being under strain, Fine Gael could be facing its own three-word message from the public.

“Please Eff Off” or “On Your Bike” were among two offered up yesterday.

Either way, it is game on.

More in this section

Puzzles logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day. PS ... We would love to hear your feedback on the section right HERE.

logo podcast

War of Independence Podcast

A special four-part series hosted by Mick Clifford

Available on

IE logo

Commemorating 100 years since the War of Independence

News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up

Some of the best bits from irishexaminer.com direct to your inbox every Monday.

Sign up
Execution Time: 0.233 s