Party leaders make last-ditch pitch for votes across nation

Top: British PM Boris Johnson driving a digger through a symbolic wall in Uttoxeter on Tuesday. Above: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking at a pub in Carlisle during campaigning.
Above: British PM Boris Johnson driving a digger through a symbolic wall in Uttoxeter on Tuesday. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Top: British PM Boris Johnson driving a digger through a symbolic wall in Uttoxeter on Tuesday. Above: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking at a pub in Carlisle during campaigning.
Above: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking at a pub in Carlisle during campaigning.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ASSOCIATED PRESS

LONDON • Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to demolish three years of stalemate over Brexit, as Britain's political leaders drove into high gear yesterday for a final push in the general election campaigning.

Mr Johnson on Tuesday ploughed a British flag-themed digger, marked "Get Brexit done", through a styrofoam wall with "gridlock" written on it, in a bid to ram home his core message in time for today's snap vote.

His centre-right Conservatives have been consistently ahead in the opinion polls, but YouGov's final survey predicted they were set only for a narrow majority - with the race tightening.

Mr Johnson's current Conservative minority government hopes to secure a majority that would let him pull Britain out of the European Union by the end of next month.

The main party leaders criss-crossed the country yesterday in a last-ditch pitch for votes.

"However you voted in the EU referendum, your priorities have been ignored over the last three years whilst Parliament has been in gridlock - unable to focus on the issues that matter to you, because it was so busy arguing with itself about Brexit," Mr Johnson said.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn sought on Tuesday to exploit the Conservatives' perceived weakness on state healthcare and divert attention from his own mixed messages on Brexit. But his push to narrow the poll gap was not helped by a leaked recording, in which Labour's own health spokesman called the left-wing party's prospects "dire".

"It's abysmal out there," Mr Jonathan Ashworth said in a recording published by a right-wing website. "They can't stand Corbyn and they think Labour's blocked Brexit."

Mr Ashworth told the BBC the tape was real, but he was speaking in jest.

Nonetheless, the Conservatives are worried about how today could go. An internal memo published by The Daily Telegraph newspaper warned that just 40,000 votes in 12 constituencies could see Mr Corbyn become the next premier.

Mr Corbyn believes he can reach those voters by focusing on the state-funded National Health Service (NHS). Labour claimed that nearly 4,700 deaths between October last year and November this year could be attributed to "patient safety incidents" caused by NHS staffing constraints.

Labour accuses Mr Johnson of abandoning the principle of free treatment for all by secretly plotting to open up the NHS to pharmaceutical giants in a new trade deal with US President Donald Trump. Both Mr Johnson and Mr Trump deny the claims.

Surveys show the NHS being almost as important to voters as Brexit itself. They also point to a general mistrust of Mr Corbyn's non-committal position on Brexit and frustrations over the Conservatives' handling of the NHS.

The Britain Elects poll aggregator puts the Conservatives on 43 per cent, Labour on 33 per cent, the Liberal Democrats on 13 per cent, and the Greens and the Brexit Party on 3 per cent each.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2019, with the headline 'Party leaders make last-ditch pitch for votes across nation'. Subscribe