Boris Johnson promised voters a new parliament for Christmas last night as he finally secured a General Election that experts have warned will be unpredictable and decided by the 'Workington Man.'
A think-tank said the swing seats were populated by older, white, non-graduate male voters living in towns in the North of England with strong rugby league traditions and will be key for Mr Johnson if he is to get the majority he craves.
It comes after another day of high drama last night after MPs backed a Government Bill for a poll on Thursday, December 12, after weeks of dither and delay by opposition parties.
Mr Johnson said a 'revitalised' House of Commons would let Britain leave the EU in the new year.
Jeremy Corbyn, who backed an election just 24 hours after refusing to do so, said Labour would kick out the 'reckless' Conservatives and deliver a socialist Britain.
The Prime Minister told MPs the election – the first in December since 1923 – would deliver Brexit after months of 'unrelenting parliamentary obstructionism'.
He later addressed Tory backbenchers, giving what one claimed was a 'King Henry V to Agincourt-type speech'.
Conservative MP Robert Halfon said: 'He said forget about the polls, forget about everything you read, this is going to be an incredibly tough election.
'No one wants to do an election in December, it's going to be mega-tough and it's going to be one of the toughest elections we could ever do.'
As battle finally commenced:
- Mr Johnson restored the Tory whip to ten MPs kicked out last month for opposing a No Deal Brexit;
- Tory sources confirmed the PM's girlfriend Carrie Symonds will join him on the five-week campaign trail;
- Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice said Tory MPs were pleading with him not to field candidates against them;
- The Government headed off opposition attempts to move the polling date to December 9 and give the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds and EU nationals;
- EU president Donald Tusk warned the latest Brexit extension 'may be the last';
- More than 100 Labour MPs defied the whip and refused to vote for the election;
- Plaid Cymru said talks were under way on pacts between pro-Remain parties;
- Tory sources said Mr Johnson would pledge to deliver Brexit by January.
The election breakthrough came after the Liberal Democrats and SNP broke ranks with Labour and backed an early poll in which they hope to benefit from Mr Corbyn's unpopularity with voters.
But election experts yesterday warned a 2019 vote – the third General Election in four years – was likely to be the most unpredictable thanks to the prevalence of smaller parties.
One said the election could result in a House of Commons with as many as 100 MPs from neither the Conservatives nor Labour, making it even harder for either of the main parties to win a majority – opening the door to a hung Parliament and yet further delay over Brexit.
The study by Onward, a Right-leaning think-tank, said today's swing voter was no longer 'Worcester Woman' – seen as a key figure in Tony Blair's victory in 1997 – but 'Workington Man' – named after the town in Cumbria.
He is said to be a typically older, white, non-graduate voter living in rugby league towns in the North. This voter has lived in his home for more than ten years as either a council tenant or owner occupier. He favours security over freedom, thinks the economy and national culture is moving away from his views, and voted Leave.
He works in a skilled manual trade or in a lower managerial role and is likely to live in a town or rural area rather than a city. He is more supportive than most people of a strong leader who does not have to bother with Parliament.
Workington Man wants government to prioritise apprenticeships rather than cut the cost of student loans and thinks it should promote a shared sense of national identity over a diversity of identities.
He is more likely than the rest of the population to think crime is a major issue facing the country and twice as likely to think immigration is a major issue.
He is particularly sceptical about the benefits of globalisation and thinks we have a special responsibility to protect local institutions such as pubs and post offices from closure.
Onward said without the support of Workington Man, a party cannot win a majority. The Labour-held constituency in which these characteristics are most common among voters is the Cumbrian town of Workington, making it the ultimate bellwether seat in the next election.
Workington is a long-standing Labour seat held by Sue Hayman, which voted Leave and has a 4,000 majority.
Will Tanner, director of Onward, said: 'This election will be the most volatile in living memory and no party should be complacent. But it is clear that the Conservatives' path to victory runs through working-class rugby league towns like Workington, Warrington and Wigan, which usually do not give them a second thought – as well as the party's leafy heartlands in the South of England.'
Workington, Warrington and Wigan, which usually do not give them a second thought – as well as the party’s leafy heartlands in the South of England.’
The seven towns that were founding members of rugby’s Super League – Castleford, Halifax, Oldham, St Helens, Warrington, Wigan, Workington – have returned only one Tory MP in every ten elections since 1918 and currently have a median Labour majority of 13,273.
Mr Johnson had previously sought to get an election through a provision in the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act that allows an early poll only if it is backed by two thirds of MPs.
This effectively gave Labour a veto but the backing of the minor parties allowed Mr Johnson to sidestep Mr Corbyn and bring in legislation for an early election that required only a simple majority in the Commons.
Sensing defeat, the Labour leader yesterday performed a U-turn and told his MPs he was now backing an election less than 24 hours after ordering them to block one.
Mr Corbyn last night said Labour would launch 'the most ambitious and radical campaign for real change that our country has ever seen'.
But veteran Labour MP Barry Sheerman said it was 'sheer madness' to hold an early election.
Fellow Labour MP Kevan Jones said: 'I will not be backing an election under any circumstances – it's playing right into Boris Johnson's hands.' Another Labour MP said: 'It is mad that we are backing this. We are going to get stuffed.'
Labour MPs made a last-ditch attempt to wreck the election bid by trying to extend the vote to EU nationals and 16- and 17-year-olds. Downing Street insisted there was not enough time to register millions of new voters.
In a significant intervention that could boost his hopes of succeeding John Bercow, deputy Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle ruled that the amendments should not be debated.
Downing Street is confident that Mr Johnson can return a 'workable' majority in December, despite being foiled in his 'do or die' pledge to take Britain out of the EU by October 31.
Senior Tories point to a run of opinion polls giving the Conservatives a double-digit lead. Polling also suggested that Mr Corbyn is the most unpopular opposition leader of all time.
But polling expert Sir John Curtice yesterday warned that Britain could be on course for another hung parliament, in what could be the most unpredictable election of modern times.
Professor Curtice said: 'I will make a prediction. There are going to be a record number of non-Conservative and non-Labour MPs as a result of this election. That makes it difficult for the Tories and Labour to win an overall majority.'
Some Tory MPs voiced disquiet at the decision to push for a snap election rather than pressing ahead with delivering Mr Johnson's new Brexit deal.
Senior backbencher Simon Hoare said: 'What are we to say to constituents and others about the fact that we may be able to find time for a five- to six-week general election campaign and then the rigmarole of forming a Government and yet not for bringing back the Withdrawal Bill?'
Damian Green, convenor of the One Nation group of Tory MPs, said the 'sensible course of action, which, frankly, voters on all sides would expect of us' was to press ahead with putting the deal into law rather than pushing for a general election.
The Prime Minister pledged that if he wins at the polls he will return immediately to the Commons to get his deal passed and end the 'dither and delay'.
Downing Street said he would get Brexit done in January and devote 2020 to delivering his domestic agenda, including on schools, hospitals and policing.
Amid rambunctious exchanges in the Commons yesterday, the PM began setting out his election pitch for voters.
Rehearsing his arguments ready for the campaign trail, Mr Johnson warned Labour is not interested in delivering Brexit. 'All they want to do is procrastinate,' he said. 'They don't want to deliver Brexit on October 31, on November 31, even on January 31.'
He added: 'They just want to spin it out forever, until the 12th of never. And when the 12th of never eventually comes around, they'll devise one of their complicated parliamentary procedures and move a motion for a further delay and a further extension then.'
Mr Johnson argued 'there is only one way to get Brexit done in the face of this unrelenting parliamentary obstructionism, this endless, wilful, fingers crossed, not-me-guv refusal to deliver on the mandate of the people and that is to refresh this Parliament and give the people a choice.'
The Prime Minister told MPs a General Election to deliver Brexit was necessary because 'delaying is becoming seriously damaging to the national interest'.
He added: 'The deal is there. It is ready to be approved by a new Parliament, with a Government yearning with every fibre of their being to be able to get on and deliver our One Nation Conservative agenda.'
Mr Johnson goaded Mr Corbyn for his repeated attempts to block a General Election before yesterday. 'He has called for an election 35 times in the last year alone. I have no idea why he has been so opposed to an election,' he said.
He compared Mr Corbyn to Goldilocks, joking: 'One offer is too hot, one's too cold. I hope he'll be able to stand up this afternoon and say this time, this offer of an election is just right.' The Labour leader tried to scupper Mr Johnson's plans for an early election by allowing 16 and 17-year-olds and EU nationals to vote, as well as calling for a public holiday on polling day.
The Government threatened to pull the early election legislation if any amendment to extend the franchise was passed. The PM's spokesman said: 'The election law on the franchise should not be changed days before the calling of a General Election.
'There are long-standing conventions that election laws should only be changed after appropriate consultation. The Electoral Commission warns against changing electoral laws less than six months before an election.'
But none of the amendments to extend the franchise were even selected to be debated by MPs, and an amendment to change the date to December 9 was defeated.
MPs voted in favour of the legislation for an early election on December 12 by 438 to 20.
Late last night, Mr Johnson was greeted with a rapturous reception as he arrived at a 1922 Committee meeting.
Tory MPs cheered and banged the table as he came in for the meeting in Parliament.
Tory backbencher Robert Halfon said Mr Johnson told MPs it was going to be an incredibly tough election for the Conservatives.
After the meeting, Mr Halfon said: '[Mr Johnson] said we're going to take the fight to Corbyn on schools, hospitals and the police. We're going to take the fight to Corbyn on domestic issues.
'Of course, he said we have to have an election because we've got to get Brexit done and Labour will mess it up... but it was a King Henry V to Agincourt-type speech – very inspirational.
'He said it's going to be the toughest election. He said forget about the polls, forget about everything you read, this is going to be an incredibly tough election.
'No one wants to do an election in December, it's going to be mega tough.'
It was claimed that, if Mr Johnson wins an election on December 12, he could ensure his Brexit deal is ratified by the Commons and Lords by the end of the following week and Britain could leave at the start of the new year.
But the deal would also have to be ratified by the European Parliament under the terms of the 'flextension'.
This would mean MEPs sitting for a special Christmas session before the end of the year.
When asked if there could be an emergency sitting over Christmas to get Brexit over the line for December 31, a spokesman for European Parliament President David Sassoli said: 'The European Parliament is always ready. We will be ready.'
But a No 10 source conceded that if the Conservatives win the election then Brexit will likely not happen until 2020.
'What the Conservatives will be promising if we win is that we will get Brexit done. We will immediately come back, we have a deal, we will be able to go to the European Council and get it ratified and get this done,' the source said.
Asked if this meant departing the EU by the end of this year, the source added: 'Probably the start of January – but 2020 would be about our domestic priorities.'
Triple threat for Boris Johnson: How the Tories could be caught in a three way squeeze by Lib Dems, Brexit Party and SNP hitting hopes of majority
The party will target Remain-leaning seats in London and the South West as they try to pick up voters unhappy with Labour's divisions and Tories' commitment to leave the EU.
Leader Jo Swinson backed the election after conceding that there was not enough support in Parliament to secure a second Brexit referendum.
She said that while she 'dearly wished' there were the numbers to back another referendum, an election was the next best way forward.
She now believes a Lib Dem surge can prevent the Prime Minister from forcing through a 'bad Brexit deal'. Last night, she said there was 'no limit' to the party's ambitions.
The Lib Dems' official election policy is to stop Brexit by revoking Article 50 if they win. Otherwise, they will continue the campaign for a second referendum.
The party is already polling well in Golders Green in north London, where Luciana Berger is standing, and hopes to pick up Richmond in south-west London and the Cities of London and Westminster which Chuka Umunna hopes to win.
They are also confident of taking seats in Oxfordshire and several in Scotland. The party is confident of winning at least 40 seats, and hopes to add 40 more, and 140 on top of that, on a very good night. The plan is known as the 40-40-140 strategy.
Its main policies are to bring about proportional representation, so smaller parties are better represented, and to allow votes for 16-year-olds. The party has also called for reform of drugs laws, greater equality and environmental action.
The Lib Dems need an election before Brexit happens as their revoke policy would no longer apply after we have left.
Going to the polls at this point would also mean the Lib Dems can capitalise on Labour's division ahead of Brexit and Mr Johnson's failure to leave by October 31.
Labour is split between its Leave-backing heartlands in the North, the Midlands and Wales, and its younger Remain-backing voters in big city centres.
It has therefore adopted a fudged position, calling for a second referendum on a deal that it has pledged to negotiate.
But after Brexit, the party will be able to get back to domestic issues, which it claims helped it do better than expected in 2017.
Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Miss Swinson acknowledged that due to a lack of support for a second referendum, an election was the next best outcome.
'We need to see the path forward, and if it is not going to be through a People's Vote, if there is not the support for a People's Vote in this Parliament, then we need to look at the other way to do that, and right now that is through having a General Election,' she said.
'We have to act, we cannot just wait, because my fear is that either the Government pushes ahead with their Withdrawal Bill and it is delivered and delivers Brexit on the back of Labour votes, or that we end up in January, a couple of weeks away from the deadline of crashing out without a deal, and find ourselves in the same precarious position.
But that time the EU says, 'I'm sorry we've extended, we've extended again, and we cannot keep doing so if you do not find a path to resolve this'.'
Yesterday, Miss Swinson confirmed that conversations were taking place with the Greens and Plaid Cymru for a Remain alliance, according to Sky.
She said 'stop Brexit' candidates would be favoured in seats but added that the vast majority of seats will have a Lib Dem candidate.
Second referendum for Scottish independence 'will be at the heart of Nicola Sturgeon's SNP manifesto and any coalition dealings with Labour'
Nicola Sturgeon will put the SNP's push for a second independence referendum at the heart of her election campaign.
The first minister of Scotland said that her party's message would be 'clear, simple and unambiguous – vote SNP to demand independence and secure Scotland's right to choose'.
The Scottish nationalists are confident of picking up a string of seats from both Labour and the Conservatives.
At present they have 35 MPs – down from the 56 they picked up at the 2015 general election – their high water mark.
If Jeremy Corbyn fails to secure a Labour majority, it is likely he would be forced to ask the SNP for their support in propping up his government.
That means he may have to sign up for a second independence referendum in 2020 – six years after the last one. At her party conference in Aberdeen earlier this month, Miss Sturgeon was explicit that in the event of a hung parliament her party would make having another independence ballot an automatic condition for gaining the SNP's support.
While she insisted her party would 'never put the Tories into power' her message to Mr Corbyn was: 'If you don't respect Scotland's right to choose our own future at a time of our own choosing, don't even bother picking up the phone'.
Mr Corbyn said on a recent trip north of the border that there would be 'no pacts with any other party'.
Yesterday the SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford welcomed an election. He said: 'We on these benches are simply not prepared to sit back and allow Scotland to be taken out of the European Union against its will.
So on that basis, Mr Speaker, I welcome the opportunity of an election, because make no mistake, the election that's coming is going to be the right of Scotland to determine its own future.'
Earlier he told BBC Scotland that if Brexit went ahead a referendum on independence would be an insurance policy 'making sure we stay in Europe'.
He added: 'We want to see Boris Johnson defeated and out of No 10.'