How do ‘Blue Wall’ voters rate the Tories one year on?

By Alex Forsyth and Alice Thompson
BBC News

Publishedduration7 hours ago

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionLast year Redcar elected its first Conservative MP since the constituency was created in the 1970s.

Last October, MPs in a packed parliamentary chamber voted for a general election, agreeing to let the country decide its own fate after months of failed wrangling on Brexit.

A year later, we returned to two constituencies in north-east England to see how voters feel about the choice they made.

At 5am, in the final wintery days of the election campaign, Boris Johnson paid a visit to Grimsby Fish Market.

Dressed in white overalls, he shook hands with the fish merchants on the floor, making bold pledges about the benefits for their industry of leaving the EU.

Four days later, the constituency of Great Grimsby turned from red to blue, as the Conservatives ousted Labour for the first time in 74 years.

It was one of a swathe of seats across the Midlands and northern England that seemed persuaded by promises of a bright post-Brexit future, and generous investment in communities that often felt overlooked.

But Boris Johnson and his government could never have predicted what was coming down the line.

A global pandemic knocked their plans off course, forcing them to confront a public health crisis with serious economic consequences.

Patrick Salmon, who owns fish smoking company Alfred Enderby in Grimsby docks, met the prime minister on the fish market floor last year.

image captionBrexit and its consequences have taken a “backseat” as the pandemic unfolded

Looking back, he said Mr Johnson had “had the toughest year possible” trying to tackle coronavirus, and that therefore he was “going to get it wrong”.

“But I defy anybody to get what we’ve just been through right,” he added.

For Patrick, Brexit – and the type of deal the UK makes with the EU on fishing – is still critical, but he acknowledged the issue had taken a “backseat” over the last year due to the Covid crisis.

He urged people to be optimistic about the prospects of a good deal, saying “we all need to be very, very positive. We’ve got no choice… So let’s get behind it and let’s talk it up.”

Up the road from Patrick’s smokers, overlooking the waters of Alexandra Dock, we met up with Mike Woods.

Mike, who’s chairman of the Grimsby Fish Merchants Association, also met the prime minister at the fish market last December.

He says he was impressed by what he described as Mr Johnson’s “passion” for the industry, and he still backs him now.

“I seriously still have belief in Boris Johnson,” he said. “I do believe that Boris is the right man for the job. And I can’t look at the present moment in time and think: who’s going to replace him?”

But Mike is nervous about the effect of the crisis on the country’s economy.

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