The citizens of Margate, wrote TS Eliot, were “humble people who expect nothing”. That seems to include their expectations of prime minister Boris Johnson.

After weeks of revelations about lockdown Christmas parties, accusations of lying about his Downing Street flat refurbishment, and claims that he ordered dogs and cats to be given priority in the Afghanistan evacuation, Johnson’s popularity has slumped in the polls.

Yet this seaside town is surely where he can rely on support. Voters in the constituencies of North Thanet and South Thanet were solidly in favour of leaving the European Union in 2016, and gave the two Tory MPs, Sir Roger Gale and Craig Mackinlay, substantial majorities in 2019.

The icy wind ripping across Margate sands may be coming for the prime minister though. His supporters seem unbothered by the latest scandals, but some of those who voted for Brexit and the Conservatives now believe Johnson is unfit to govern.

In the old town, John Greves uses an expletive to describe Johnson. “He’s a very, very clever man but I’m sad to say he’s absolutely clueless,” he says. Greves, a local businessman, has raised funds for the local Conservative party and been involved in local politics for some time. He is pleased that Brexit happened and believes that “you need Tories to make the money and socialists to tell you how to spend the profits”. He worries that people seem not to care about each other any more. Christmas parties and wallpaper are irrelevant, he believes, but he is hugely frustrated by Johnson. “He needs to walk,” he says. “He is incapable of representing this country. He got into No 10 on the back of getting Brexit done. He’s in No 10, he got Brexit done, and now he’s there, he’s found out that he doesn’t want to be there.”

Past the Turner Contemporary gallery, the beach is almost entirely deserted. Inside a Wetherspoons pub on the seafront, Mike Simmons is relaxing with a lunchtime pint and a copy of the Telegraph. He turns 77 in a few weeks and dismisses talk of Christmas parties and wallpaper, although he is unhappy about the allegation that animals were prioritised over people during the evacuation of Kabul.

“I put a lot of it down to the wife – she’s got too much influence,” he says, referring to Carrie Johnson. “My son-in-law has been in Bosnia and Iraq – I love dogs but people have got to come first.”

Gale described the No 10 party as “another Barnard Castle moment”, but Simmons thinks the prime minister’s problem has been his inability to handle advisers like Dominic Cummings. “OK, that idiot should have gone to Specsavers instead of driving to wherever it was, but anyone in their right mind would have kept him under control.

Johnson supporter Alan Hatton says ‘he couldn’t care less about the wallpaper’.
Johnson supporter Alan Hatton says ‘he couldn’t care less about the wallpaper’. Photograph: Andy Hall/the Observer

And Johnson’s future? “I can’t see him lasting the next two years if he carries on like he has done. But who’s going to take his place? I don’t think Dominic Raab is up to it. [Michael] Gove is brilliant, but he’s like poison.”

Alan Hatton hasn’t voted in recent elections, although he was previously a Tory voter who backed Tony Blair and thought Jeremy Corbyn’s nationalisation plans were sound. Here is the most solid support for Johnson so far.

“I couldn’t care less about the wallpaper,” he says. “I can’t understand why he couldn’t get a government payment to redecorate Downing Street. Most politicians aren’t that well paid.” He’s happy to look past the Christmas party as well. “It could have been an impromptu party. No one obeyed the Covid rules to the letter. He got Brexit done. I don’t know why he’s being lambasted now. He just needs to get people jobs.”

On the high street, there is further support for Johnson. “It’s a year old,” says Roger Newton, when the Christmas parties are mentioned. “Downing Street is his home. I don’t think we should be poking around in there.”

He is generally pleased with the handling of the pandemic and the latest announcements about moving to “plan B” measures on Covid, as well as the government’s general direction. He balks at the No 10 flat refurbishments. “That is a bit of a dodgy situation,” he says. “They had given him £30,000. You would have thought that would be enough. But I think the working-class people probably like him. Even if he is a bit of a loose cannon.”

It’s not hard to also find people in Margate who express loathing for the prime minister. Mike Kerslake says Johnson has “sent the reputation of the country into the gutter”, while Carol Hudd, a retired teacher, adopts Keir Starmer’s “trivial person” description.

Yet if the Labour leader hopes those sentiments will translate into votes, he may struggle. Lynne Jardine doesn’t vote, she says, and is fatalistic about the Christmas parties. “It’s no surprise” she says. “Last Christmas, I got Covid and I had to spend a week on my own. I just slept most of the time.”

Things have got much worse for her though. Her 17-year-old son broke his back after falling off a cliff and is paralysed. They have a wheelchair that is not appropriate and will have to wait two years for the local authority to adapt their rented home. The money spent on Downing Street is “disgusting”, she says. “We don’t get any help.” Her anger is not limited to the governing party, though. “None of them deliver what they promise. They all lie.”


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