Undecided voters could swing behind Labour after Boris Johnson’s “cold shouldered” response to a sick boy sleeping on the floor in a hospital’s under-pressure A&E unit, a focus group run by HuffPost UK and Edelman suggests.
Of nine women in the marginal seat of Peterborough, seven said they would back the party of “passionate” and “for the people” Jeremy Corbyn over Johnson, while one was undecided and the other would back the Tories to push through Brexit.
Every voter raised fears over NHS privatisation when quizzed on Monday night, in a sign Labour’s key “not for sale” campaign message, aimed at highlighting the risks of a US-UK trade deal to the health service, was gaining traction in the final days of the election.
Childcare help and rising levels of UK poverty were also top priorities for the group, the majority of whom were parents.
The group had an even split of Leave and Remain backers.
‘Not listening at all’
The PM was severely criticised after bizarrely snatching and pocketing the phone of ITV journalist Joe Pike after repeatedly being asked to look at the photo of four-year-old Jack Williment-Barr.
Jack, four, was left to sleep on a pile of coats at Leeds General Hospital because there were no beds. He had suspected pneumonia.
Nicola, an ex-Tory voter and mum who homeschools her children, described Johnson’s behaviour as “arrogant, self-serving” and “disgusting” and said the message he sent to voters was: “I don’t want to see, I don’t care.”
Joanne, who works at a credit card company, said Johnson was “rude” and “so focused on what he wanted to say he didn’t have any awareness”.
“He’s a car crash,” Nicola added. “He referred to that child as ‘poor kid’ and ‘his experience’ as nothing more than that.”
Emma, a part time property developer and a mother, said he should have “just taken two minutes to look and say: ‘This is terrible – this is what I will try and stop.’”
Amy, a part-time waitress and mum of two, said: “If he’s a leader, he should know without being coached or having something written for him. He should know what to do [and say] if he’s that passionate about running the country.”
Others in the group were equally scathing, questioning: “How can we take him seriously?”
Louise, recruitment consultant, said Johnson was “talking over [reporter Pike] and not listening at all”.
Ferzana, a mum and council officer, said: “I’ve seen a couple of things like that, where he doesn’t answer the question and just makes an idiot out of himself.”
Nicola said Johnson’s reaction when challenged came across as: “How dare you?”
His behaviour was described as not “very human”. “Every time he is caught off-guard he doesn’t know what to do,” she added.
“He didn’t show any empathy and, in his position, he should at least have tried to portray that. He’s not speaking for people, is he? He’s not getting on their level. He’s basically just repeating himself.”
Eishrat, a teaching assistant and mum, added: “We need a people’s person, someone that actually speaks to them and engages with people. That’s not engaging. That’s not answering the question. He’s very cold-shouldered.”
Fazarna added: “He’s very wealthy and he doesn’t understand what the normal person goes through day to day. He’s never suffered or been in that position.”
The group of female voters also had concerns about Johnson’s colourful personal life.
Johnson, who in the past has made derogatory comments about single mothers, working mothers and working class men, is said to have groped the leg of a female journalist in the past. It is also not known how many children he has.
Members of the group were aware of reports of him being “handsy” and “inappropriate with women” and they believed it had been “brushed under and shushed”.
One remarked they saw Johnson as a “creep” and that the reports showed “that he respects women less”.
Denise, a health visitor and mum-of-three, said: “What example is he setting as leader of the country to the next generation?”
Corbyn ‘knows what he is talking about’
Shown clips of a Corbyn campaign rally and the Labour leader’s interview with veteran BBC journalist Andrew Neil, the reaction was more positive.
Joanne said Corbyn seemed “a lot more passionate but he also tugs on the heart strings”.
Others remarked that he was on top of “facts and figures”, “composed” and that they “believe him more” than they did Johnson.
Stacey, a payroll assistant at an accountant, said: “I thought it was quite powerful compared to Boris’ confusion.”
The voters were much less convinced a second Brexit referendum was the way forward, with even Remainers saying it was time to move on.
‘They’ve ruined too many lives’
The group was asked to send Johnson a message for if he won the election.
There were some heartfelt responses, including: “Please give us a realistic solution to mending the NHS that we love,” and: “Dear Boris, please do not privatise the NHS.”
Another read: “Dear Boris, get on the people’s level and show that you are for this country and not just fulfilling your dream of being prime minister.”
Others were less forgiving, saying: “It’s a shame we have been landed with you as prime minister. Stop lying,” and: “Bring a bit more equality between us all.”
Nicola said: “Please remember you have a whole country to lead. Please remember the poor, the ill and the old. Stop punishing the poor. Stop the children having no home.”
There was strong evidence that Labour’s NHS message had cut through and that voters found it difficult to trust Johnson.
Nicola said: “[Johnson] wants to privatise the NHS, much as he says he doesn’t. He has already started to do it.
“He is blatantly lying – there is already bits of it that he has put out on to tender.”
Emma added: “People on the lower wage bracket will not be able to afford private healthcare.”
“Boris, he lies,” said another participant, adding: “If you have five or six children, how are you going to pay for them to have medicine and care?”
They described Johnson as “a character, and not a particularly good one,” adding he sought “what’s best for him” while the “people at the bottom of the pile have nothing”.
Asked what Johnson’s best traits were, one response was that “he’s a good liar”.
Joanne added: “All of these promises. They say they’re going to deliver on this and that. Brexit is a fine example. Absolutely nothing has happened.”
Amy was prepared to back Johnson, and said: “I would like to actually see them finish what they have started. We’re in a bit of a mess and maybe, maybe, they could finish things off.”
Others raised Labour’s policy of restoring Sure Start centres as a positive thing, but described the plan for free broadband as “a bit desperate”.
Members of the group also questioned the credibility of all of Labour’s manifesto, saying they did not think five years of a Corbyn-led government would change the country, adding that taxpayers could be hit.
‘Jeremy seems a lot more composed’
Asked who they would vote for, the vast majority of the group said Labour, picking out childcare, and investment in education and the NHS as top reasons.
Nicola said austerity was her reason, adding: “I’ve voted Conservative in the past. They’ve ruined too many lives and they’ve not followed through on what they said they were going to do, and really, since Brexit, the party is in disarray.”
Another said: “Jeremy seems a lot more composed.” One woman added: “I’m unsure on [Corbyn] as a person,” but said she backed Labour “on the whole”.
“I’ve got more confidence that Labour will get things done,” added another voter.
Ferzana picked out cutbacks, and said: “I’d like us to go back and rectify what we’ve lost already.”
Others were undecided, however, and said Johnson “might do something, he might surprise us”.
Positive comments for Corbyn’s leadership were thin on the ground, however.
Comments included “Jeremy Corbyn is not very likeable”, that he was “very guarded”, he “doesn’t come across as a strong leader” and that “with Brexit, [Labour] sat on the fence quite a bit”.
Note: the focus group participants were from social classes ‘C1/C2’, all women, vote Labour in 2017, and undecided about who to vote for in the general election.
The People’s Election is a HuffPost UK series aimed at getting beyond the politicians’ agendas for the 2019 election, trying to find out what really matters to the public.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.