Boris Johnson doesn’t just want to avoid the tough questions of Andrew Neil – he doesn’t want to face the good folk of Yiewsley Baptist Church either.
And it’s a shame because in a General Election campaign that started with a viral video that showed the prime minister struggling to make a cup of tea – they really do a mean brew.
Mr Johnson is defending a 5,034 majority in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, the smallest of any prime minister since 1924, but he turned down pastor Rich Blake-Lobb’s invite to the latest hustings event in the constituency last night.
Earlier this campaign he was replaced by an ice statue after failing to show for a Channel Four climate change debate and he has form for missing local hustings too – he was even replaced by a cardboard cut-out here four years ago, though still won over 50 percent of the vote a few days later.
Mr Johnson was replaced by a cardboard cut out at the same hustings event in 2015
This time where he was due to sit was a tumbler of tap water and a rather sad printed piece of card, propped up on a trestle table adorned with an un-ironed table cloth.
“Local hustings are a pillar of local democracy,” said Labour rival Ali Milani, who pointed out former prime ministers David Cameron and Theresa May, who both represented much safer seats, both took part in their constituency hustings events in the previous national elections.
“Every local resident should have the right to ask all their candidates questions and hear their views.
“Truth is, those who come from the ‘born to rule’ political class believe they are above accountability. My challenge to Johnson is there is time … show up and debate me.
“However, this prime minister doesn’t know what it’s like to live like his constituents. He has never lived a day like us and we deserve a local MP, who uses our local hospital and walks our streets every day.
“People in our community are tired of being used as a platform to Downing Street, as being an inconvenience to someone’s political career. There is nothing I can say to symbolise this more than the empty chair at this hustings. We need a strong local voice.”
“It is not too late. We have an interview prepared. Oven-ready, as Mr Johnson likes to say”— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) December 5, 2019
Andrew Neil issues a challenge for Boris Johnson to commit to an interview with him, to face questions on why people have “deemed him to be untrustworthy”https://t.co/daHLxEYn4r pic.twitter.com/oQ21uDdtJe
The hustings took place as BBC interviewer Mr Neil issued the prime minister a challenge to take part in a sit-down interview with him before next week’s election. Mr Johnson is the only leader of a main party not to have faced a prime-time grilling by Auntie’s most fearsome and forensic inquisitor.
Mr Johnson’s seat is on an internal Conservative ‘at risk’ list, prompting speculation he might relocate to a safer one before parliament was suspended.
However, he was no doubt heartened by recent polling from YouGov that showed him tracking 13 points ahead of Mr Milani, whose campaign also stuttered last month when he was forced to apologise for anti-Semitic comments he made as a teenager.
Mr Johnson faces a crowded field of 11 rivals, including an independent who is actively seeking to get no votes, one man wearing a bucket on his head and another who prefers a bin.
However, he won 50.8 percent of the vote two years ago, prompting 100 pro-EU groups to send to write to Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson last night asking her to withdrew her candidate, Joanne Humphreys.
The letter promises that if Ms Humphreys stands aside, they’ll exert the same pressure on Labour to surrender in in Esher and Walton, where Lib Dem candidate Monica Harding is causing foreign secretary Dominic Raab some sleepless nights.
He is defending a 23,298 majority in what has always been seen as a super-safe Conservative seat, though a recent poll showed his lead slashed to five points.
“We know we are asking you a lot to help Labour without any reason to think Jeremy Corbyn will return the favour,” says the letter, which was organised by Hugo Dixon, the deputy chairman of the People’s Vote campaign.
“But if Johnson wins a majority, he’ll drag us out of the EU. So we implore you to look to the national interest,” says the letter.
“We also know you are already only running a paper candidate in Uxbridge. But we want you to go further and support Labour there.
“A similar letter is being sent to Corbyn asking Labour to support the Lib Dems in Esher and Walton, where you can bring down Dominic Raab.
“But to be clear, we don’t want you to wait for him to say yes. Time is terribly short, so we want you to take unilateral action.
“To boot out the Tories, we have to vote tactically for the candidates with the best chance of beating them. If you step back where you don’t stand a chance, that message will be heard loud and clear across the land.”
However, Ms Swinson has shown no indication of striking a formal or informal pact with Labour, indeed when journalist and Lib Dem candidate Tim Walker withdrew from Canterbury for fear he could cost Labour’s Rosie Duffield the seat, which she won with a 187 majority two years ago, he was promptly replaced.
“We are not just trying to boot Boris out in Uxbridge,” insisted Mr Dixon.
“We want to change the dynamics of the election. If the Lib Dems and Labour pull back in key seats, this will supercharge the message that we need industrial scale tactical voting. With that, we can deny Boris his majority, get a referendum and stay in the EU.”