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Boris Johnson’s shock ‘n’ awe: How the PM only expected a small majority on election night


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Boris Johnson was confident enough of victory that he did not draft a resignation speech, as his predecessors have done. 

But he believed he would scrape home with only a slender majority of maybe ten MPs. 

And as he awaited his fate on Thursday evening, sitting in Margaret Thatcher’s old study on the first floor of 10 Downing Street, it was the spectre of another female Tory leader that haunted him.

Despite having run a sophisticated data-driven campaign, months in the planning and ruthlessly executed, he could not escape the fear he might repeat Theresa May’s 2017 Election disaster.

But before long, Mr Johnson was heralded the most successful Tory leader in a generation, thanks to a remarkable result that saw old party allegiances ripped up, Labour strongholds obliterated and the people’s decision to leave the EU finally cemented.

Mr Johnson could finally celebrate in a truly British fashion: a homemade chicken curry cooked by girlfriend Carrie Symonds.

It had been a draining campaign, and the clearly exhausted Prime Minister was bumbling even more than usual at his victory party on Friday evening. 

Boris Johnson at his constituency count in Uxbridge with Carrie Symonds, who later treated her boyfriend to a victory chicken curry

Mr Johnson walks through the door of Number 10 and throws his arms aloft as he is cheered to the rafters by Downing Street staff following his emphatic majority

Mr Johnson walks through the door of Number 10 and throws his arms aloft as he is cheered to the rafters by Downing Street staff following his emphatic majority

Mr Johnson could not hide his elation as he walked into CCHQ Friday morning with Carrie and aides in the early hours today

Mr Johnson could not hide his elation as he walked into CCHQ Friday morning with Carrie and aides in the early hours today

At 3.45am, with the Prime Minister growing his personal majority, he thanked his boozy staff. The party went on until 5am

At 3.45am, with the Prime Minister growing his personal majority, he thanked his boozy staff. The party went on until 5am

It had been a draining campaign, and the clearly exhausted Prime Minister was bumbling even more than usual at his victory party on Friday evenin

It had been a draining campaign, and the clearly exhausted Prime Minister was bumbling even more than usual at his victory party on Friday evenin

But the scale of his triumph prompted him to abandon his pledge not to drink until after he had guided Britain out of the EU. 

‘The majority means Brexit is secure, so who can blame him for that,’ said a Downing Street source as Mr Johnson sipped his first glass of wine in months.

Later that evening he even received a warm embrace from David Cameron, his fellow Old Etonian who turned political foe during the Brexit referendum.

Their ‘man hug’, witnessed by former Chancellor George Osborne at a party thrown by newspaper owner Evgeny Lebedev, secured Johnson’s place as top dog in a rivalry that has spanned decades.

The Prime Minister could not dare dream of such euphoria as he sat waiting nervously for the results on Thursday night.

A television had been wheeled into Lady Thatcher’s old study, with Mr Johnson flanked by his closest aides and Ms Symonds, all grimly sipping tea as the minutes ticked down to ten o’clock. 

Fruit, sweets and bottles of wine were untouched, and even their winsome rescue dog Dilyn taking his own seat at the table on his hind legs failed to cut the tension. 

The party's Australian campaign chief, Isaac Levido (pictured with victorious PM), had drilled into staffers day in, day out, there was only ever one poll that mattered: the result at the ballot box

The party’s Australian campaign chief, Isaac Levido (pictured with victorious PM), had drilled into staffers day in, day out, there was only ever one poll that mattered: the result at the ballot box

Mr Johnson and his partner made a rare public display of affection as the reality of his victory started to sink in

Mr Johnson and his partner made a rare public display of affection as the reality of his victory started to sink in 

Beneath an oil painting of Lady Thatcher, brooding guru Dominic Cummings sat in an armchair, glued to his laptop.

Despite reassuring predictions from the finest pollsters and data geeks money could buy, everyone in the room was acutely aware such forecasts had proved wrong before. 

As the party’s Australian campaign chief, Isaac Levido, had drilled into staffers day in, day out, there was only ever one poll that mattered: the result at the ballot box.

The most accurate bellwether for that has traditionally been the exit poll commissioned by the broadcasters, and revealed the moment voting closes at 10pm.

So nerves in No 10 were palpable as Huw Edwards appeared on the screen to unveil the figures. A landslide, he announced. A predicted majority of 86.

Ms Symonds had been considered bullish for wagering a 25-seat majority, but this would be the greatest Conservative victory since Mrs Thatcher had sat in that very room in 1987. 

So the beam of delight, the shock at the scale etched on Mr Johnson’s face, was very real. 

He threw his hands in the air, as Cummings leapt up still gripping his precious computer.

‘Staring at the screen was discombobulating,’ recalled one Downing Street adviser.

 ‘We were looking out for 320 or 330 seats – so the huge 370 predicted took a moment to even compute.’

Boris Johnson was in celebration mode as he left CCHQ after thanking staff for their role in his stunning election win

Boris Johnson was in celebration mode as he left CCHQ after thanking staff for their role in his stunning election win 

Mr Johnson is clapped by staffers in Number 10 after storming to a decisive victory after a gruelling campaign

Mr Johnson is clapped by staffers in Number 10 after storming to a decisive victory after a gruelling campaign

Just 500 yards away at the vast Conservative Campaign Headquarters, hundreds of staff gathered in front of a large cinema style screen to witness the same moment.

When it came, the room erupted into minutes of sustained cheering, as they discovered that five weeks of caffeine-fuelled, sleep-deprived campaigning had paid off. 

They had secured the result many of them had felt was cruelly snatched from them by May’s failings in 2017.

‘The last time I saw anything like that was watching England qualify for a semi-final,’ said one insider. 

‘The only thing missing was some idiot throwing their pint in the air, but it was not far off.’

While the result came as a surprise to many frontline staffers, for the most senior campaign team the exit poll was vindication of their numbers rather than a shock. 

In fact, Tory HQ had been far more confident of victory than Mr Johnson.

Having honed his skills by helping Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison achieve victory earlier in the year, Levido got the same band back together for his second campaign of the year.

As the PM spoke on the steps of Downing Street, his top team, including chief of staff Eddie Lister, media manager Rob Oxley and strategist Dominic Cummings watched on

As the PM spoke on the steps of Downing Street, his top team, including chief of staff Eddie Lister, media manager Rob Oxley and strategist Dominic Cummings watched on

After winning the election, Mr Johnson could finally celebrate in a truly British fashion: a homemade chicken curry cooked by girlfriend Carrie Symonds (pair pictured returning to Number 10)

After winning the election, Mr Johnson could finally celebrate in a truly British fashion: a homemade chicken curry cooked by girlfriend Carrie Symonds (pair pictured returning to Number 10)

Polling by long-time Tory allies CFT Partners was done each night, and it was then set into context by modelling from blue-chip public-affairs gurus Hanbury Strategy.

Pollster Michael Brooks would be at his desk by 4am to crunch the numbers and some days not leave until 11pm.

His findings would be fed in to Levido’s first meeting at 5.30am; followed by a 7.30am conference call with the PM and aides. 

In that call on Thursday, Mr Levido had told Mr Johnson ‘you pay me to worry and I am not worried’.

As results first trickled, then flooded in, it was clear that he – and the exit poll – were correct. The final majority was 80.

Mr Johnson left Downing Street to join the count in his own constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip. 

After that result came in at 3.45am, with the Prime Minister growing his personal majority, he thanked his boozy staff. The party went on until 5am.

In Central London, aides had decamped from campaign headquarters to the nearby Queen Elizabeth II Centre for a victory rally. 

Only a handful were quietly put in taxis instead, having celebrated a bit too hard to face TV cameras.

When Mr Johnson returned from West London, he could make his triumphant speech beneath banners proclaiming ‘The People’s Government’.

Levido and Cummings had ordered them a week earlier, so confident were they in their polling.

But the arrangements had been made in secret, for had news leaked that they were so sure victory was in the bag, the cry of hubris would surely have been deafening. 

Boris Johnson plants his blue flag in Tony Blair’s back yard in a moment of extraordinary symbolism that underlines how much the country has changed 

By Ian Gallagher and Jacinta Taylor for the Mail on Sunday 

They had lent him their votes, now they were lending their ears. 

Day Two of his victory lap found Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the North-East, surveying the rubble of Labour’s once-impregnable Red Wall like a conquering field marshal.

Delivering heartfelt thanks to voters for ‘breaking the voting habits of generations’ to back the Conservatives, he promised to take everyone on a ‘wonderful adventure’ and ‘give Britain its mojo back’.

Bishop Auckland, Blyth Valley and Darlington, among others, all fell to the Tories and any one could have supplied a symbolic backdrop. 

Yet for extra piquancy – and most likely a little devilment – Mr Johnson picked Tony Blair’s old fortress of Sedgefield to plant his blue flag and issue his stirring address.

Held by Labour since 1935 (Mr Blair once enjoyed what Boris would call a ‘stonking’ 25,000 majority) the seat is now in the hands of Conservative Paul Howell who won by more than 4,500 votes.

Mr Johnson thanked voters in the ‘incredible’ North-East constituencies for placing their trust in the Tories. 

Noting that they had ‘changed the political landscape… and the Conservative Party for the better’, he added: ‘Everything that we do, everything that I do as your Prime Minister, will be devoted to repaying that trust.

Day Two of his victory lap found Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the North-East, surveying the rubble of Labour's once-impregnable Red Wall like a conquering field marshal

Day Two of his victory lap found Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the North-East, surveying the rubble of Labour’s once-impregnable Red Wall like a conquering field marshal

Tony Blair raises a foamy pint in the Trimdon Labour Club where he would celebrate his election victories in Sedgefield. The County Durham constituency fell to the Tories

Tony Blair raises a foamy pint in the Trimdon Labour Club where he would celebrate his election victories in Sedgefield. The County Durham constituency fell to the Tories 

Boris Johnson gives the thumbs up after pulling a pint with newly elected Conservative party MP for Sedgefield, Paul Howell at Sedgefield Cricket Club

Boris Johnson gives the thumbs up after pulling a pint with newly elected Conservative party MP for Sedgefield, Paul Howell at Sedgefield Cricket Club

‘We are the servants now and our job is to serve the people of this country and deliver on our priorities. And our priorities and their priorities are the same.’

Inside Sedgefield Cricket Club, the region’s newly-elected MPs and supporters, some 200 in all, encircled the PM, cheering his every upbeat pronouncement.

Giving more thanks – for this was the theme of the day – Mr Johnson listed all the seats snatched from Labour in the North-East, punching the air as he cried out each name. 

Sedgefield, Bishop Auckland, Stockton South, Darlington – ‘where my ancestors come from, it turns out’ – North West Durham, Blyth Valley, Redcar.

And each vanquished stronghold was met with a yell of ‘Yeah!’ by those around him.

Who could have foreseen all this last week? Not the 170-year-old cricket club, for sure. 

Its last function, a quiz night, was held on December 6 and its officials were busy preparing for its Family Christmas Party, entry £5, when the call came in: ‘Could you make room for the Prime Minister?’

In truth, those who went along weren’t so much lending their ears as handing them to Mr Johnson on a plate. 

UK election result 2017

UK election result 2019, when Labour's 'red wall' of traditional strongholds in the northern heartlands crumbled

Labour’s ‘red wall’ of traditional strongholds in the northern heartlands crumbled on Thursday

‘It was amazing to hear him speak and what an honour to see him and hear him in person,’ said Durham businesswoman Lyndsey Johnson, 33, who was joined by her 13-year-old daughter Jasmine.

‘Boris gets people on his side because he is so relatable and I think that he has unified the country once more.’

Tory supporters from across the region received their invitations to the hastily-arranged event by email dispatched from party HQ the night before. 

Details of exactly where the Prime Minister would be speaking were not specified, only that he would be in ‘County Durham’.

The email added: ‘Successful applicants will be advised of the event location by email on Saturday morning.’

For some, the cloak-and-dagger arrangements heightened anticipation and ramped up excitement. 

The good folk of these parts aren’t usually given to extravagant displays of emotion but by the time Mr Johnson swept into the club’s unassuming tarmac driveway, the crowd was already whipped into, if not a frenzy, at least quite a lather.

‘It’s him! It’s him! He’s here!’ screeched one lady. Then came chants of: ‘Boris, Boris.’

Once inside, Mr Johnson honoured Labour voters who switched allegiance, acknowledging ‘how difficult it was… to make that kind of decision.

The good folk of these parts aren't usually given to extravagant displays of emotion but by the time Mr Johnson swept into the club's unassuming tarmac driveway, the crowd was already whipped into, if not a frenzy, at least quite a lather

The good folk of these parts aren’t usually given to extravagant displays of emotion but by the time Mr Johnson swept into the club’s unassuming tarmac driveway, the crowd was already whipped into, if not a frenzy, at least quite a lather

‘I can imagine people’s pencils hovering over the ballot paper and wavering before coming down for us and the Conservatives.’ 

He added: ‘I want the people of the North-East to know that we in the Conservative Party and I will repay your trust, and everything, everything, everything that we do, everything I do as your Prime Minister, will be devoted to repaying that trust.

‘And, first of all, what are we going to do?’

‘Get Brexit Done!’ came the shouted reply.

‘We’re going to get Brexit done, aren’t we?’ said Boris, warming to his task. ‘We’re going to get Brexit done and we have a deal ready to go. Now can anybody tell me what kind of a deal it is?’

The crowd, louder this time, dutifully yelled: ‘Oven-ready.’

By now, Boris was in danger of resembling an enthusiastic primary school teacher, or perhaps a Northern comedy club warm-up man, but the crowd loved it.

‘Give me the culinary characteristics of that deal again,’ he demanded. ‘It is oven-ready, it’s ready to go. 

Every single one of our wonderful MPs, our wonderful new MPs, they’re all here, now do you support that deal?’

‘Yes!’ they screamed.

The PM: ‘We want, of course, to improve our fantastic National Health Service and that’s why we’re making the biggest investments for a generation. How many new hospitals?

Wrapped against the winter chill, many patiently waited for a glimpse of their surprise visitor

Wrapped against the winter chill, many patiently waited for a glimpse of their surprise visitor

‘Forty!’ came the reply.

‘Forty hospitals. How many new nurses? How many more nurses should I say?’

‘50,000!’

‘Yes – and we will get on and deliver on those objectives, we will make the streets safer across the whole of the UK by investing in how many more police initially?’

‘20,000!’

And so it went on. Word had spread quickly among residents of the former mining community and beyond. 

Wrapped against the winter chill, many patiently waited for a glimpse of their surprise visitor, among them retired firefighter Ron Hurst, 81, and his wife Diane, 70, who live near Sedgefield.

Explaining why he backed Boris, Mr Hurst said: ‘The last time I voted Labour was back in the 1970s. 

‘I remember how, in 1977, Labour put us on strike for nine weeks which hit us really hard financially.

‘The problem is that Labour policies are far too extreme and I think that is one of the reasons why Boris won this Election. And Brexit had a lot to do with it as well.’

Meanwhile, inside the cricket club, the Prime Minister was now behind the bar pulling pints of craft ale for a photo call, in a re-creation of old images of Tony Blair clutching a pint of bitter at the Trimdon Labour Club, six miles down the road.

It was where he always celebrated each of his Election victories. The club closed down some years ago and is now a carpet shop.

How times change. 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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