Boris Johnson today seized on comments made by Labour frontbencher Jonathan Ashworth who said Jeremy Corbyn would be a security risk if he becomes prime minister as the Tory leader ran amok on a JCB and tried to get his campaign back on track.
A secret recording of the shadow health secretary revealed he told a Conservative friend that Mr Corbyn was unelectable and was proving to be a massive problem on the doorstep with many voters in Labour’s heartlands.
Mr Ashworth has claimed the comments were ‘banter’ but Mr Johnson said this afternoon they demonstrated exactly why Mr Corbyn must not be put in Number 10.
The PM said of a potential Labour victory later this week: ‘This country would be led by a Hamas-backing, IRA supporting, anti-Semitism condoning, appeaser of the Kremlin – which is what he is, look at the record.
‘But if you doubt me, listen to what his health spokesman said today, Jon Ashworth. He revealed that he thinks his own leader is a security risk and I think it couldn’t be clearer than that.’
Mr Johnson made the comments at a JCB factory in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, after he was let loose in a Brexit-themed digger, driving it through a wall with the word ‘gridlock’ emblazoned on it.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly vowed during the election campaign to replace the old parliament with one that can finally agree a Brexit deal and take the UK out of the European Union.
Signalling his intention to bulldoze his political opponents at the ballot box on Thursday, he used the powerful visual metaphor of a piece of heavy machinery bearing his ‘Get Brexit Done’ mantra – and with a Union flag paint job – crashing through a Styrofoam wall to hammer home his key message to voters.
There are now just two days left until the election and the Prime Minister is trying to re-energise the Tory campaign after an opinion poll showed his hopes of winning a majority are hanging in the balance with the Conservative lead over Labour down to seven points.
The Savanta ComRes survey, conducted between December 6-8, puts the Tories on 43 per cent and Labour on 36 per cent.
If such numbers were replicated on polling day it could lead to a hung parliament, with the Electoral Calculus prediction website suggesting it would leave the Conservatives a handful of seats short of a majority.
Tory strategists are concerned Labour may not need to gain a single seat to oust Mr Johnson, with the party’s private polling showing that losing just 12 constituencies to the SNP and Lib Dems could put Mr Corbyn in Number 10.
Boris Johnson today tried to get the Tory election campaign back on track as he visited a JCB factory in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire
Mr Johnson got behind the wheel of a Brexit-themed JCB as he drove through a wall emblazoned with the word ‘gridlock’
Mr Johnson appeared to be in good spirits during the campaign stop despite opinion polls suggesting that the race for Number 10 is getting tighter
Mr Johnson used a speech after his time in the JCB to seize on comments made by shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth who was recorded saying Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable and would pose a security risk as PM
A new SavantaComRes poll gives the Tories a seven point lead over Labour. It puts the Tories on 43 per cent and Labour on 36 per cent. If such a result is replicated at the election on Thursday it could result in a hung Parliament
Jon Ashworth on Jeremy Corbyn, in his own words:
On whether he is a security risk if he takes power: ‘I worked in No.10, I think the machine will pretty quickly move to safeguard security. But it’s not going to happen! I can’t see it happening!’
On Labour’s Leave heartlands: ‘Outside of the city seats, if you are in small-town Midlands and North, it’s abysmal out there. They don’t like Johnson but they can’t stand Corbyn and they think Labour’s blocked Brexit.’
On Labour’s electoral chances: ‘I think middle-class graduates – Remainy people – Labour’s probably doing well among… but not in big enough numbers to deny the Tories a majority.’
On Corbyn becoming PM: I just can’t see it happening. It wouldn’t surprise me, for the sake of argument, that if Labour held somewhere like Canterbury, because of middle class Guardian-reading people, but then the Tories take Bolsover off Labour, it wouldn’t surprise me at all. Because the electoral map is being very topsy-turvy because of Brexit and because of Corbyn.
On likelihood of a Tory majority : The question is for Labour, if it gets itself a half-decent leader next time round, whether it can reverse and regain its traditional heartland seats. I just can’t see how you don’t have a majority, to be honest.
On voters wanting Boris as PM: … they say he is a liar, that definitely comes up, the idea that he doesn’t tell the truth seems to have struck a chord but they also say some version of ‘he will get this bloody Brexit done, I am sick of Brexit, he will get it done’.
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A secret recording of Mr Ashworth sparked a political firestorm after it was published by the Guido Fawkes website this morning.
In the phone conversation, the Labour frontbencher said his leader’s tortured neutrality on Brexit was proving divisive in working class, Leave-supporting areas.
The Labour candidate for Leicester South is heard saying the civil service machine would ‘pretty quickly move to safeguard security’ if Mr Corbyn entered Number 10.
He said: ‘Outside of the city seats, if you are in small-town Midlands and North, it’s abysmal out there.
‘They don’t like Johnson but they can’t stand Corbyn and they think Labour’s blocked Brexit.
‘I don’t think they are long-term gains for the Tory Party but I can see them going Tory this election and if Labour ever got its act together they presumably would fall back.’
Confronted with his remarks on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire Show today, Mr Ashworth claimed it was ‘banter’ with a friend.
He said: ‘We are having banter with each other. We are joking around. No I don’t mean it, because I’m joking around with my mate because he is a Tory and he is saying things. If you leak it to Guido Fawkes of course it makes me look like a right plonker.
‘But it is not what I mean when I’m winding up a friend, trying to sort of … pull his leg a bit.’
Mr Ashworth claimed the recording was leaked by Tory activist Greig Baker, former chairman of Canterbury Conservative Association.
The shadow health secretary said: ‘It’s a shame because I thought he was a friend – he’s clearly not a friend.’
Later, on the BBC’s Politics Live programme, he suggested he was trying to do the ‘Alex Ferguson thing, psyche him out’ – a reference to the former Manchester United football manager.
Mr Ashworth apologised to the Labour Party and admitted he looked like an ‘idiot’ after the recording was released.
Mr Corbyn said the leaked conversation was an attempt to ‘deflect away from the Tories’ mess on the NHS’ and that Mr Ashworth’s comments were just an example of his ‘rather odd sense of humour’.
Pressed on suggestions in the recording that he was a security risk, Mr Corbyn said: ‘Jon and I have known each other for a very long time and he was actually making some jokes, a rather odd sense of humour surrounding it, but that is him.
‘If you know Jon Ashworth like I do, he makes jokes the whole time.’
Tory poll lead over Labour at seven points
Boris Johnson’s hopes of winning a majority are hanging in the balance with just two days until the general election after a new poll showed the Tory lead over Labour is now just seven points.
The Savanta ComRes survey, conducted between December 6-8, puts the Tories on 43 per cent and Labour on 36 per cent.
If such numbers were replicated on polling day it could lead to a hung parliament, with the Electoral Calculus website suggesting it would leave the Conservatives a handful of seats short of a majority.
Mr Johnson today tried to get his campaign back on track after a disastrous day for the Tories yesterday which saw the PM embroiled in a damaging row over the treatment of a sick four-year-old boy who was photographed lying on the floor of Leeds General Infirmary.
The PM was confronted with the widely-publicised picture of Jack Williment-Barr by ITV reporter Joe Pike and initially refused to look at it as he put the interviewer’s phone in his pocket before backing down.
The hospital row then worsened as the Tories wrongly accused a Labour activist of punching Matt Hancock’s adviser as the Health Secretary left the hospital in question after trying to defuse the row. A video of the altercation showed the aide had walked into the protestor’s hand.
Mr Johnson then published a new Tory party political broadcast on his Twitter page at 9.36pm last night in a move which appeared to be designed to force the election campaign focus away from the NHS and back onto the PM’s preferred battleground of Brexit.
In the video Mr Johnson recreates a famous scene from the film Love Actually as he knocks on a member of the public’s door and uses a slideshow of cards with handwritten messages on to hammer home his core election mantra of ‘Get Brexit Done’.
Remain campaigner Hugh Grant accuses the Tories of using Russian money to fund Boris Johnson’s parody of his hit movie Love Actually
Hugh Grant has accused the Conservative Party of using Russian money to fund Boris Johnson’s campaign video which parodies a scene from his hit film Love Actually.
The 59-year-old actor and Remain campaigner has been campaigning for different parties in seven seats with the aim of using tactical voting to deprive the Tories of a majority at this Thursday’s General Election.
He has now responded to the new campaign video from the Conservatives in which the Prime Minister emulates a scene from the 2003 film Love Actually, in which Grant starred.
His reference to Russian money on the BBC Radio 4’s Today echoes a well-worn attack line against the Tories.
Labour has repeatedly accused the Conservatives of improperly taking money from Russian tycoons who are UK citizens – a charge the party vehemently denies – and has also accused Boris Johnson of covering up a report on Russian interference in UK elections.
In response to the allegations, the Tories say: ‘These are British citizens, they have the absolute right as any other British citizen does, to invest in and be part of the British political scene.’
The timing of the publication of the ‘Brexit, actually’ video raised eyebrows because it came at the end of a torrid day for the Tories and with the Conservative Party due to broadcast the election advert at 6.55pm on the BBC this evening.
Tory sources denied the advert had been rushed out as they said it was first broadcast by BBC Wales yesterday evening before it was published by Mr Johnson.
Conservative strategists are worried that Mr Johnson’s position as the clear frontrunner in the race for Number 10 could make his supporters complacent.
The Tories fear that could result in Conservative voters failing to turn out to vote on Thursday.
As a result, the party is cranking up its ‘fight for every vote’ and is warning the election is tighter than people think.
The Conservatives are also blitzing voters with their ‘Get Brexit Done’ slogans in the final campaign sprint before polling day.
Urging viewers to ‘vote Conservative actually’ in the Tory advert published last night, Mr Johnson unveils placards that read: ‘Your vote has never been more important. The other guy could win.
‘So you have a choice to make. Between a working majority.
‘Or another gridlocked hung parliament.’
Labour has been gradually eating into Mr Johnson’s poll lead in recent days but it looks like it could be too little too late for Mr Corbyn in terms of his chances of victory.
However, the Labour leader could yet deprive Mr Johnson of securing the majority he craves.
Campaign gurus in Conservative HQ have said Mr Corbyn’s prospects of becoming prime minister have been ‘seriously underestimated’.
A leaked memo between Tory pollster Michael Brooks and chief strategist Isaac Levido seen by the Daily Telegraph said ‘as little as a 1 to 2 per cent movement in the current vote in a handful of seats’ could result in a hung parliament.
Mr Brooks goes on to caution that a complacent belief that a Conservative victory is in the bag poses a ‘major risk’ to the party maintaining its grip on government.
The woman is relaxing on the sofa with her partner when the doorbell goes in the unconventional election broadcast
A Conservative election broadcast which aired in Wales tonight starred the Prime Minister as one of the movie’s hopeless romantics who uses a slideshow of placards to tell a woman he loves her
The skit opens with Boris telling the woman to pretend it’s carol singers at the door
Key point: The PM insists Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour could still gain power if tactical voting isn’t taken sufficiently seriously
Jeremy Corbyn rejects claims of using the NHS as a ‘political football’
Jeremy Corbyn defended himself from accusations that he was using the NHS as a political football today as the row over care continued to spark fury.
The Labour leader insisted that funding of the health service was a ‘serious issue, it’s a political issue’ after he clashed with Boris Johnson over the care of a small boy.
A photograph widely circulated on social media showed Jack Williment-Barr, four, lying on a pile of coats to keep warm while he waited for a bed for treatment for suspected pneumonia at Leeds General Infirmary.
Questioned by ITV News yesterday, Mr Johnson initially refused to look at the photo of Jack on the reporter’s phone before taking the phone and putting it in his pocket.
Labour has made the future of the NHS at the heart of its campaign ahead of the election on Thursday, claiming it as risk after Brexit as the UK needs a trade deal with the United States.
Asked about accusations he was using the NHS as a political football on BBC Breakfast he said: ‘It’s an example of what’s happening in our NHS. And it is obviously awful for that little boy and the family, the way they were treated.’
Pro-EU campaigners have wargamed that it would only take 40,000 voters scattered across roughly 30 marginal seats to vote tactically to return a hung parliament, paving the way for Mr Corbyn to potentially take power.
Polling suggests that more voters than ever before are prepared to vote tactically in this election, which the Conservatives worry could claim some large party scalps such as ex-leader Iain Duncan Smith and one-time Mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith, whose chief rivals have been bolstered by Remain candidates standing aside.
In a bid to counter ‘TnT’ – tactical voting and turnout complacency concerns – Mr Johnson’s Love Actually-themed broadcast underscored the possibility of a Labour election upset.
Clutching a pile of billboards and a stereo playing carols, he emulated the famous scene between Andrew Lincoln and Keira Knightly.
One by one he turned over the cards – which each only had a few words on – addressed to a woman he was trying to woo from across the threshold.
They read: ‘With any luck, by next year. We’ll have Brexit done. If Parliament doesn’t block it again. And we can move on.
‘But for now let me say. Your vote has never been more important. The other guy could win.
‘So you have a choice to make. Between a working majority. Or another gridlocked hung parliament. Arguing about Brexit. Until I look like this.’
In the 2003 rom-com Andrew Lincoln tells Keira Knightly he loves her over the threshold of her home while her boyfriend is inside
Jeremy Corbyn also shared his own online video in which he is filmed reading out ‘mean tweets’ which people have posted insulting him
Mr Corbyn, pictured during an appearance on BBC Breakfast this morning, rejected accusations of Labour using the NHS as a ‘political football’
He then showed a picture of a scruffy blonde sheepdog which prompted a snort of laughter from the redhead woman.
Mr Johnson continued: ‘It’s closer than you think. We only need nine more seats to get an election. And on 12th December. Your vote will make all the difference. Merry Christmas.’
Love Actually is widely regarded as one of the nation’s favourite Christmas films and is often re-watched by families on December 25.
Boris Johnson plans to wield departmental axe
Boris Johnson could abolish two government departments in a major shake-up if he wins the election, it was reported today.
The PM plans to fold the Department for International development into the Foreign Office, the Financial Times claims.
And the Department for Exiting the European Union could become part of the Department for International Trade once Brexit occurs.
But the star of the 2003 rom-com, Hugh Grant, who plays the prime minister, is an active Remain activist and has been leafleting with pro-EU Lib Dem and Labour candidates.
Meanwhile, Mr Corbyn published his own new social media video last night as he was filmed reading out ‘mean tweets’ which had been directed at him on Twitter.
Sitting in front of a roaring fire, Mr Corbyn read out a series of rude messages including one which said: ‘I’ll bet Jeremy Corbyn will be glad when this election is over so he can go back to wearing his commie hat.’
The latest Conservative broadcast asking people to ‘vote Conservative actually’ comes after Mr Johnson deployed another film reference to steer people away from Labour.
He said voters should swing behind the Tories to avoid waking up on Friday the 13th to see the ‘Nightmare on Downing Street’ of Mr Corbyn in charge.
Although Labour is closing the poll gap, Mr Johnson is still the election frontrunner but the Conservatives hope that does not lure their supporters into a false sense of security that he is certain to win.
Boris Johnson poses holding a cod during a general election campaign visit to Grimsby Fish Market as he cranks up his campaigning
Tory private polling reveals a swing of just 12 constituencies to the SNP and Lib Dems could deprive them of a majority and allow Jeremy Corbyn (pictured in Bristol on Monday) to springboard himself into Number 10 with the support of minor parties
The PM (pictured during a visit to Gardiner Bros in Hardwicke) will say on Tuesday will warn there is a ‘clear and present’ danger of another hung parliament if voters do not back the Conservatives
And in the first December ballot since 1923, they are pinning their hopes on their elderly voters flocking to polling stations in what may be grim weather.
The PM doubled down his anti-complacency messaging today during his campaign trip to Staffordshire.
Reiterating the memo’s concerns that opposition parties only need 12 seats to put Mr Corbyn in power, he warned there is a ‘clear and present’ danger of another hung parliament if voters do not back the Conservatives.
He said: ‘The danger of another hung parliament is clear and present. There are sophisticated and well-financed attempts underway to prevent a Conservative majority through tactical voting.
‘Jeremy Corbyn and his Lib Dem, nationalist and Green allies need only 12 more seats than last time to make Jeremy Corbyn prime minister and continue the chaos of a hung parliament.
‘A vote for any of these parties is a vote for further indecision and two more referendums, on Brexit and Scottish independence. We’ll be stuck in this limbo, this first circle of hell, for the foreseeable future.
‘On the other hand, the Conservatives need only nine more seats for a majority. We could finally get Brexit done, end the uncertainty and move on.’
The 11-minute damnation of Jeremy Corbyn in full
Jon Ashworth shredded Labour’s leadership and election chances in an 11-minute conversation with a Tory friend that appears to have been recorded last week. Here is the full transcript:
Jon Ashworth: …are all like, ‘oh my god, this is going to be the same as 2017, Theresa May, Look what’s happening, look what’s happening’.
For what it is worth, I think my Labour colleagues are more correct than my Tory friends on this.
Tory: What sort of proportion of them think Labour is going to get smashed?
JA: Anyone in the Midlands … anyone outside of the city seats, if you are in small-town Midlands and North, it’s abysmal out there.
They don’t like Johnson but they can’t stand Corbyn and they think Labour’s blocked Brexit.
I don’t think they are long-term gains for the Tory Party but I can well see them going Tory this election and if Labour ever got its act together they presumably would fall back, do you know what I mean?
JA: But on the other end of the scale I think middle-class graduates – remainy people – Labour’s probably doing well among – and the Lib dems are doing well – but not in big enough numbers to deny the Tories a majority.
Tory: You are obviously just speaking [unintelligible], but I’m reasonably confident and certainly optimistic that the Tories will be a majority.
But I just think that if Corbyn became prime minister, and if it is any sort of … basically if the Tories got anything less than 350 I don’t see how he can’t be prime minister – even if just for a short while.
I just think the cost would be so – within the first 24 hours Sterling goes down from a minute past 10 on the exit poll on the Thursday, stock markets crash, or at least any company that is renationalised or supplies companies that get nationalised loses a ton of value first thing in the morning, all Five Eyes guys start making noises about pulling back in the morning. That is before he has even got his seals of office.
I don’t think it is likely, I think it’s like a 10 per cent chance, maybe more, of having a workable administration. But the cost is – we have talked about this before, he’s just not up to it. What I said before about having tickets booked on Eurostar for 2250 that night if he comes in, I’m quite serious. We are trying to work out what we could put in the suitcase to get out the county, because you know capital controls come in.
JA: I just can’t see it happening. It wouldn’t surprise me, for the sake of argument, that if Labour held somewhere like Canterbury, because of middle class Guardian-reading people, but then the Tories take Bolsover off Labour, it wouldn’t surprise me at all. Because the electoral map is being very topsy-turvy because of Brexit and because of Corbyn.
The question is for Labour, it is gets itself a half-decent leader next time round, whether it can reverse and regain its traditional heartland seats. I just can’t see how you don’t have a majority, to be honest.
Tory: I think if Labour had a half decent leader two years ago you’d be 40 points ahead. But is there any reassurance you can give me as to what would sensible Labour MPs do to stop Corbyn actually getting the seals of office? Is there anything that would happen or is it just…
JA: God knows … because we f***ed it up. We f***ed it up in 2016 when we went too early. People like me were internally saying this isn’t the right moment, but I got ignored.
We went too early, so now I’m afraid … but I don’t think we are going to get there, I just can’t see it.
In places like Mansfield and Ashfield, it’s dire for the Labour Party up there, these traditional areas
Tory: What happens if, say tomorrow, Trump says something ludicrous, there is a big swing in the polls and Tuesday next week, Labour is two points up? What would you do? Ride it out?
JA: Yeah, but I don’t think we are going to get there. I just can’t see it.
It’s not going to happen. Stop worrying, it’s not going to happen!
Tory: If you got in [inaudible]…
JA: Ummm. I don’t know. On the security stuff I have worked in Number 10 I think the machine will pretty quickly move to safeguard security things, the civil service machine.
Tory: They wouldn’t let him see stuff?
JA: You know, it is not going to happen. I just cannot see it happening. I just cannot see it happening. Not the way things are going at the moment.
Tory: I know what you mean and I appreciate the point about Canterbury being a bit different. Canterbury is kind of turning into Islington on Sea because of all the people coming down from London. That is just demographic change.
JA: Yeah, yeah.
Tory: It becomes a slightly harder fight for us over a couple of generations. I think it will be tight this time though. I think probably it will be 500 either way. But yeah, as much as I’d love to see [inaudible] from our perspective, I am more worried about the national picture.
JA: I have been going round these national places. It is dire for Labour. It is dire. Our strategy is just to try and help as many of my colleagues back over the line banging on about the NHS in their areas for them. It is awful for them and it is the combination of Corbyn and Brexit.
Tory: Do you think any of your more moderate colleagues would switch parties or anything?
JA: I think the ones who are gonna do that have already gone. It is not going to happen. I just cannot see it happening. I just cannot see it. Not on the things I am finding and what I am picking up. Johnson and CCHQ would have to massively f*** it up in the last week.
Tory: Yeah I know.
JA: That might not reassure you. [both men laugh]
Tory: 2017, I remember being up in [inaudible] and for the first couple of weeks of the campaign it actually looked like you might win. The Tories put out the manifesto and then there was the Manchester attack so basically the news clamped down for three days. The guy I was helping had done a local poll just before and just after that happened and he went from seven points up to seven points down over three days. Obviously those are incredibly rare events but, I don’t know, apart from Trump, there’s all the things you can’t imagine like the delay in distribution of school flu vaccines or whatever it is on your beat – you must be aware of half a dozen things that could flare up and that is the same in every department.
JA: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Tory: I just really dread the, some of the polls now are down to six or seven points and because of the way the seats fall and the majorities fall they need to be seven or eight to get a majority of one really. I expect the Tories to get a majority but I would sleep easier if you could either reassure me on Corbyn not being able to get in or even that he is not going to be as bad. I mean the markets would go and stuff, wouldn’t they?
JA: I don’t know what they would do. I just don’t think it is going to happen. What I am picking up I can’t see it happening because by this point last time I remember it, the sort of things that normal people were saying is, or basically some version of it, was ‘isn’t that Theresa May useless’ – some version of that.
What they are saying now is some version of… they say he is a liar, that definitely comes up, the idea that he doesn’t tell the truth seems to have struck a chord but they also say some version of ‘he will get this bloody Brexit done, I am sick of Brexit, he will get it done’.
Some version of that and it is a combination of those who want Brexit, the Leavers, but then it is the others who probably voted to Remain or maybe weren’t that bothered that are now just sick to death of it and want it put away and they think that he will be the person who will just get it done. Do you know what I mean?
Tory: If it works out alright and I assume we both hope and there is some sort of workable majority for Johnson, how long do you reckon it will take Labour to get its act back together and get rid of Corbyn? We talked about this before, haven’t we? Obviously things work better if you have got two decent parties trying to make each other up their games. At the moment you guys are just all over the f***ing place.
JA: I know. I know. Well that is the thing that a lot of us are… It is on our minds.
Tory: How long do you reckon it will take to switch it round. Is he irremovable now because of the NEC and stuff or what?
JA: I think things can change quickly. I think things change more quickly generally now… I think things are more fluid. Anyway. Maybe that is a conversation for another day.