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Voters in Tory heartlands divided on Boris Johnson’s fate

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Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his resignation as party chief on July 7.

PHOTO: AFP

TONBRIDGE, United Kingdom (AFP) – In the Conservative heartland of Kent, retiree Mike Studholme says Prime Minister Boris Johnson was his own worst enemy – and thinks a woman in the mould of Margaret Thatcher should take over.

“He brought it down on himself,” the 67-year-old told AFP in Tonbridge, a market town in the leafy county which sits southeast of London, facing France.

“I think he’d made too many errors in judgment,” said the lifelong Tory, standing in the shadow of Tonbridge’s ruined medieval castle.

“And now he’s resigned, he should just go,” Mr Studholme added, reflecting opposition to Mr Johnson’s plan to stay in office until the Conservatives elect a new leader.

Mr Johnson announced his resignation as party chief on Thursday (July 7), after a Cabinet uprising over scandals culminating in his appointment of an ally with a history of sexual assault allegations to a senior role.

Another Tory supporter, who asked to remain anonymous, agreed that the prime minister “deserves it”, pointing to the “Partygate” scandal over lockdown-breaking revelry in Downing Street.

“You can’t make the laws and then break the laws, you can’t lie… Boris to me has been taking a leaf out of Donald Trump’s book,” she said.

Another lifelong Tory, Lorraine Eastmead, 62, was more forgiving, saying she “wasn’t pleased” by senior ministers forcing Mr Johnson out.

“I think he made some mistakes but they all do… he’s done so much for us, on the world stage,” said the care home manager.

She added the 58-year-old Johnson should stick around until a new Conservative leader is in place.

“We need some sort of continuity, at least so he can do a decent handover, like in any job.”

Tonbridge is represented in parliament by Conservative Tom Tugendhat, 49, who became the second MP to announce their intention to run in the leadership race.

An army reservist who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr Tugendhat chairs the foreign affairs committee in the House of Commons, and has long been a thorn in Mr Johnson’s side.

But he has never led a government department, and is seen as an outsider to become leader.

“Tom’s a nice guy and it’d be cool for Tonbridge to have somebody – our local MP – in a prominent position,” dog-walker Jessica Stapley, 41, said along a scenic river walk.

But Ms Eastmead said: “I think he’s probably not really ready yet.

“I like Liz Truss,” she added, referring to Britain’s foreign secretary.

“There’s probably better candidates” than Mr Tugendhat, agreed Mr Studholme who said he was no fan of the divisive Truss.

Nevertheless, the pensioner wants a woman to be the next Tory leader, preferably one like Mrs Thatcher, who reigned supreme over the party and Britain in the 1980s.

“I think they’d tend to do things in an un-Boris manner,” said Mr Studholme.

Nearly two-thirds of Tonbridge-area voters backed the Conservatives at the last general election in 2019, and 56 per cent supported Brexit in Britain’s 2016 referendum.

Among the minority of non-Tories, the end of Mr Johnson’s tumultuous three-year premiership was welcomed, but with some trepidation at who will come next.

“It should’ve been done long ago – he probably never should’ve been prime minister,” IT worker Colin Robinson, 45, told AFP.

He described Mr Johnson as “a very calculating individual using a skin of buffoonery”.

“I was glad to see the system finally did what it should have done some time ago,” Mr Robinson said, adding: “Whether they’ll replace him with anyone any better, I don’t know.”

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