BORIS Johnson has been put on notice by the people of Hartlepool to rediscover his “magic touch” if he wants to be a ballot box winner again.
Fed-up Red Wall voters are running out of patience with a government dogged by the Partygate scandal — with the Prime Minister facing a battle to keep them onside.
Their warning shot to avoid a day of reckoning for the Tories is delivered at the half-way point to the likely date of the next General Election.
Voters in the North East seaside town will go to the polls in local elections on Thursday, just a year after a Tory MP won a by-election in the ex-Labour stronghold.
It is the first ballot since Britain emerged from the pandemic, and also a judgment on how Boris has handled the Ukraine crisis.
The alert was sounded this week as HOAR on Sunday toured the town centre, with the public demanding the PM rediscover the form that won him an 80-seat majority in December 2019.
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Tory voter David Adamson said: “If he wants to take the country with him, he must shake off the parties scandal of the past few months.
“It’s been relentless. He needs to find all that energy again and the magic touch that went into getting Brexit over the line and vaccines into people’s arms.
“He hasn’t been helped by the country locking down over the past two years but he still has a chance to turn it around, despite the fixed penalty notices for parties.”
David, 73, who still works as a civil engineer on construction sites, added: “There aren’t many big political figures around and the Tory MPs need to be careful what they wish for before they start making changes.
“Big promises were made before the last election to make places like this better but nothing has really changed yet — Boris needs to concentrate on some of the forgotten places.
“If he wants to keep hold of places like this he needs to act fast and start delivering before it’s too late.”
The ongoing lockdown party row, which saw Mr Johnson receive a £50 fixed-penalty fine, is overshadowing his efforts to improve the region.
In his first speech as PM, he vowed to answer “the plea of the forgotten people and the left-behind towns”.
Hartlepool is part of the so-called “Red Wall” and a seat which Boris failed to land in 2019 but eventually won in last year’s by-election — the first Tory win in the town since the constituency was established in 1974.
The average salary in Hartlepool is around £24,000, with house prices at £151,000 and 5.7 per cent of people claiming benefits, compared to 4.2 per cent nationwide.
Voters say the Government risks throwing away all its good work, along with its reputation as the party of law and order.
Mum-of-two Stacey Elmer, 31, was made redundant last November but has now found work for a hire car firm.
She said: “I can’t fault Boris when it came to getting the vaccine into people’s arms, and the furlough money that helped workers and businesses from going to the wall.
“But the good work seems like it has been undone by the Downing Street parties and the fixed-penalty notices. I find it very hard to understand how we can trust people who break the law when they make the law.
“It’s not just me who thinks that — it’s friends and family.
“There’s part of me that could vote Conservative if they have the right leader, but how can they class themselves as the party of law and order again?
“Boris said a lot about Ukraine and did well on that but when people are feeling the squeeze money-wise with the cost-of-living crisis, he won’t be thanked for that even if that is unfair.”
The people of Hartlepool are nicknamed Monkey Hangers, from a 19th Century tale about locals hanging a monkey that survived a French shipwreck and was thought to be an enemy spy.
This week the Hangers will have their say when one third of the seats on the borough council are up for grabs.
And despite getting funding of £25million to regenerate the town centre, for some disgruntled voters not enough progress is being made.
Life-long Conservative supporter William Latimer, 79, has turned his back on the party and can’t see a way back as it stands.
The retired engineer said: “Boris has had his day and I feel it’s now time for one of the others to take their chance.
“There were big promises when Boris came to power to improve areas like this but I feel things have got worse — look at the roads and the pavements. On a national scale, the Conservative Party now seem to have a bad smell about them — probably a bit like the 1990s with sleaze.
“There has been a lot made about people being given priority on PPE deals during the pandemic, then all the fraud through the Covid loans. It’s made me have a good look at the Labour leader Keir Starmer.
“I look at him and listen to what he says and think, ‘I’ll vote for you’.
“In the last election, Boris only had to beat Jeremy Corbyn, who was hated up and down the land. The threat of Corbyn in Downing Street has gone, disappeared.
“He is now fighting a Labour Party who has got its act together at last.”
Concern was also raised in the town over Rishi Sunak’s wealthy wife Akshata having to change her non-domicile status, meaning she now pays tax in the UK on her worldwide income.
Market trader and swing voter Jaga Singh, 53, said: “The public have grown tired of ‘one rule for them and one rule for us’.
“There is only so much you can take. Even if nothing wrong was done, it sort of feels like sticking two fingers up to the British people.
“You can’t have a situation where there is a dividing line between the politicians and the people, where they do what they want and everyone else has to suck it up.
“His party need to show some steel and be ruthless to get rid of Boris — anything else and they are walking towards certain defeat.”
Hartlepool voters brought up lots of local issues they want fixing, such as potholes, better jobs and major investment in the town.
But although 18,000 jobs are expected to be created over five years thanks to the Teesside Freeport scheme, the town’s hoped-for rebirth will not happen overnight.
Voter Kate Robinson, 42, called the Government “arrogant”, saying they just look after their “own class”.
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She added: “We need an action plan pretty quickly to help people outside of the South. I feel we’re last on the list for help, as all the money goes elsewhere. They may say we get this and that, but that is how it feels.
“Just look at this high street — you can tell there needs to be a load of money pumped into the area to encourage people to stay here and build their lives without moving away.”