Today marks the beginning of the Prime Minister’s final push of campaigning before voters head to the polls on Thursday – and what better place to start his tour of Labour Leave heartlands than in Grimsby.
A tired-looking Boris Johnson woke at about 5am this morning to make his way from Healing Manor hotel to Grimsby fish market for about 6.30am, along with a gaggle of equally shattered journalists.
But Mr Johnson’s visit to the market was anything but fatigued: he was in high spirits, went down well with the workers whom he spent most of the morning chatting to, and even got stuck in with some of the tasks at hand.
Clad in white overalls and protective headgear, Mr Johnson deployed his signature “can do” attitude for the cameras, striking bemused poses with fish merchants and fish themselves.
That the PM chose the fish market should come as no surprise to those who have been watching the campaign, and indeed the aftermath of the 2016 Brexit referendum.
Mr Johnson’s Brexit rival, Nigel Farage, chose the Seafood Village as the site of his visit to Grimsby last month, in a sign of how politicians believe that the decline of the fishing industry here symbolises the town’s rejection of the EU.
A well-briefed Prime Minister told Grimsby Live in an interview that Brexit could be a “massive boost” to the fishing industry here but that “it’s going to require a concerted strategy to get it right and it won’t happen overnight” . He warned it could take “years” for the town to feel a bit of its former glory.
Outside, the atmosphere was less jovial.
Protesters had gathered with face masks of the BBC presenter Andrew Neil, whom the Prime Minister has refused an interview with – making him the only leader to do so, prompting accusations that Mr Johnson is avoiding scrutiny just days before the election.
And for Labour’s Melanie Onn, who is fighting to remain as the town’s MP, the choice of venue was little more than a cop out.
Why wasn’t Mr Johnson at the Princess Diana hospital – which is in special measures – talking to staff and patients? she asked.
Her message has been that while Mr Johnson chooses symbolism and photo opportunities she, as the local candidate for Grimsby, is out and about shining a light on the real issues in the town.
With only three more days to go until polling day, the timing of this visit is clearly designed to deliver maximum impact.
The Tories will be hoping that the few hours the Prime Minister spent in Grimsby will be enough to seal the deal and persuade people here that usually and unequivocally support Labour to break their voting habits and opt for the Tories.
They will be banking on the hope that the power of Mr Johnson’s personal projection alone will help swing the seat towards them.
One fishing merchant, who is a Boris fan, is less sanguine. For him, the push to persuade begins at home.
“I’d like to have seen a stronger campaign and that’s through the usual route of gauging with more people in the local area,” he said of the local Tory candidate, Lia Nici.
When asked if a lacklustre local campaign could cost the Tories on Thursday, he told Grimsby Live: “It’s a Labour town and I think we needed a stronger campaign. It’s as simple as that.”
And what of the idea that Brexit will restart fishing here?
“No chance. We’ve got no fleets. You’ve got to train the crews – it goes on and on. That would be a 10-year process minimum.
“Fishing usually gets sold down the line in any of these situations and that’s a concern for our industry. I don’t think a lot will change.”
Does he think the Prime Minister’s visit may be too little too late?
“I think this time round maybe yes.”
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