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People are deeply unhappy with Boris Johnson: Brexit rebel Dominic Grieve on challenging his own Tory majority

21 min read

Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, barrister and lifelong Conservative, was always an unlikely rebel.

But opposition to a catastrophic no-deal Brexit has seen him morph from senior Tory backbencher to parliamentary insurgent, leading to his ejection from the party by Boris Johnson.

Instead of bowing out, Mr Grieve chose to seek re-election in Beaconsfield, a true blue Buckinghamshire seat he has represented since 1997.

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“It’s fairly weird, quite frankly,” Mr Grieve tells The Independent as he mounts a campaign to overturn the Tory majority he built over more than 20 years.

Beaconsfield, a prosperous and picturesque rural constituency to the west of London, is facing an election unlike any other in recent times.

It has elected a Tory MP in every poll since its creation in 1974, with Mr Grieve holding the seat since 1997, returning at the snap election in 2017 with a 24,000-strong majority. ​

But Brexit has sent things off-kilter. The EU referendum result was on a knife-edge, with an estimated 51 per cent of voters backing Remain in the area.

It is this pro-EU sentiment Mr Grieve is counting on to deliver a decisive blow to the Tories, who are keen to hold onto what has been for many years, a safe seat.​

Some life-long Tory voters in the Buckinghamshire constituency consider him a traitor, he readily admits, but others have said privately they will vote for him.

“It seems to me that we have a two-horse race between me and the Conservative candidate,” he says.

Detailed constituency polling by YouGov put Mr Grieve in second place on 28 per cent, behind the Tories on 56 per cent, if the election was held this week.

But Mr Grieve is hopeful. “There is some indication that I am collecting quite a lot of support and from across the spectrum,” he says.

His cause has been helped by Liberal Democrat candidate Rob Castell, who stood aside and endorsed Mr Grieve in order to consolidate the Remain vote.

Many of the party’s activists are now campaigning for Mr Grieve, who is hopeful that Lib Dem voters will support him at the ballot box.

He is optimistic about capturing non-voters too, who have traditionally made up around 30 per cent of the electorate in Beaconsfield.

Mr Grieve says: “You tend to associate that with people who don’t really care about things but I don’t think that’s the case. They think there is just no point in doing so because they don’t feel particularly partisan and they are of the view that it is not going to make any difference.

“I think I am going to get votes from some of them. How many and what percentage of this group comes out to vote, I don’t know.”

The hard part is going to be persuading Tory voters to ditch tribal loyalties. The Conservatives have selected Joy Morrissey, a Brexiteer and councillor from West London, who will defend the party’s majority from 2017.

General Election 2019: Opinion polls over the last seven days

Ms Morrissey, who was not available to speak to The Independent for this piece, will benefit from the Tory ground operation and support from high-profile figures, such as Theresa May, who was spotted leafleting in the constituency.

Mr Grieve says: “There are plainly quite a large number of people around who normally vote Conservative who are willing to vote for me. End of story. How many and whether that’s enough, I just don’t know.”

Some Tories are not so forgiving. On the doorstep, some ask him how he dares to rock the boat, saying: “This seat has been true blue for generations and you are endangering it.”

But antipathy towards both Mr Johnson is fuelling support in some quarters, Mr Grieve believes, particularly as the prime minister is gunning for Leave-voting seats in the north and the midlands – a million miles away from Beaconsfield.

Boris Johnson is Marmite. I may be Marmite in some way – but Boris Johnson definitely is,” he says. “There are a lot of people who are deeply, deeply unhappy with Boris.

“They don’t like him, they don’t trust him and that is, at least in part, what inclines them to vote for me.”

The Labour leader is regarded as a “bogeyman” in the constituency, fuelling Mr Grieve’s optimism that pro-EU Labour supporters could also back him as an independent.

Mr Grieve is keen to capitalise on this. “My literature has absolutely got on it, ‘I will not help Jeremy Corbyn get anywhere near Downing Street.’

“Middle England has concluded that Corbyn is a mixture of nutter and bogeyman. You’d be quite surprised at the depths of hostility towards him.”

As a leading Brexit rebel, Mr Grieve’s record in parliament over the past 18 months is both an asset and a hindrance to his campaign.

He was one of the first senior Tories to break cover to demand a second referendum and became a vocal supporter of The Independent’s Final Say campaign.

But these rebellions came at a cost, putting a strain on his personal relationships and prompting “vitriolic” abuse on social media.

He argues that his consistency on Brexit appeals to voters. “At a time when they seem to have very low opinions of politicians, the fact that I have been willing to take the flak for it, the fact that I have been willing to arguably sacrifice my political career for it, seems to count in my favour.”

On a wet Monday afternoon in the town centre of Gerrards Cross, voters were undecided on how to cast their ballot.

Keith Deane has always voted for the Conservatives but he believes that his old party has “gone mad” since the referendum.

He says: “I think it started with Brexit but I think they have swerved to the right. I will vote for Grieve because he is a sensible guy – he seems to be at any rate.

“He’s been given a bit of stick as I think a lot of people round here think he didn’t support Brexit but he did.”

Meanwhile, Tanja Spittal wanted to back the Liberal Democrats before the candidate stood down to support Mr Grieve.

Ms Spittal, a recruiter who backed Remain, said: “I was a Conservative voter but I won’t vote for Dominic Grieve. I don’t know how I’ll vote. Brexit will determine my vote.”

In Fego cafe down the road, Sophie Harvey and her mother Valerie Candy both say they are backing the prime minister.

Ms Harvey, a full-time mother, said: “My husband and I are voting for Joy because we always vote Conservative. I think that the Brexit issue is quite important. I think to see Brexit through is crucial. If you stop Brexit then democracy is effectively dead.”

She was disappointed by Mr Grieve’s part in the parliamentary skirmishes over the process of leaving the EU.

She said: “I feel he has let the side down. I have been loyally voting for him over the years. The whole of parliament voted for article 50 to be activated.

“So for our MP now to go against that – it is dismissing the will of the people.”

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