LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday launched his Conservative Party’s campaign for the general election. But there’s a hitch. Johnson has to win back his own seat — fending off a challenge from a young Muslim immigrant who represents the Labour Party. It could be a tight race.
Johnson represents Uxbridge, a suburb of northwest London and no longer the safe seat for Tories it was a decade ago. In the last general election, in 2017, Johnson won his race by just 5,034 votes. If Labour can swing 5 percent of the electorate its way, the prime minister could be in trouble.
British lawmakers don’t have to live in the districts — or constituencies — they represent, and Johnson doesn’t live in Uxbridge, though he makes occasional meet-and-greet appearances.
That makes him vulnerable, said Ali Milani, 25, the Labour challenger, who touts his credentials as a local. Milani lives in Uxbridge and went to Brunel University here (where he was a student leader). He said Johnson’s failure to stop a third runway at Heathrow international airport — years ago he had pledged to lie down in front of the bulldozers — will also hurt the prime minister.
On Tuesday night, Milani went door-to-door in the South Ruislip neighborhood, urging people to toss Johnson out. More than a hundred activists joined him in the canvassing.
“This is a historic election right here. This could be the very first time we unseat a sitting prime minister. Right here, we have the power to stop Boris Johnson,” Milani said as he rang doorbells, trailed by photographers and camera crews.
Johnson has until Nov. 14 to switch to a safer seat — though such a move appears unlikely, as campaign materials featuring him are already being pushed through mail slots in Uxbridge and South Ruislip.
Johnson is hopeful that the Dec. 12 election will break the long impasse over Brexit and give his party a majority so he can extricate Britain from the European Union.
Milani arrived in London from Tehran with his mother and sister when he was 5. They lived in public housing. He went to school on partial scholarships.
Johnson, 55, was born in New York. His father was a diplomat who served in Brussels for a time, and his mother an artist. He was educated at Eton and Oxford. Before entering politics, he was a celebrity journalist.
Judging by one night of door-knocking, it was hard to gauge the excitement locals felt for either candidate. A few firmly but politely told Milani that they were backing Johnson. A few others gladly accepted his campaign fliers and said they were Labour all the way.
But most door knocks went unanswered — even if one could spy folks at home through the curtains. Many brushed the campaigners off, saying they were busy making dinner. One fellow seemed uncertain, but when Milani asked what languages he spoke and the man answered “Farsi,” the two struck up a rapport, and all were invited in for tea.
Milani declined. But as he was leaving, he noted, “I think we got a vote there.”
Far from Uxbridge, Johnson appeared outside his official residence at Downing Street on Wednesday and urged voters, “Come with us, get Brexit done and take this country forward.” The dreary alternative — a Labour win or a hung Parliament — would turn “the whole of 2020 [into] a horror show of yet more dither and delay,” he warned.
Johnson’s jolly pitch was in stark contrast to that of other senior Conservatives who spent Wednesday morning issuing apologies.
In the previous 24 hours, two Conservative lawmakers were accused of disparaging victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, while the Conservative campaign posted a doctored video of Keir Starmer, the Labour spokesman for Brexit, talking to ITV’s Piers Morgan.
“Why would the E.U. give you a good deal if they know you’re going to actively campaign against it?” Morgan asked.