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1 November 2019

Boris Johnson is bad at walkabouts. That could hurt his campaign

The Prime Minister was booed out of Addenbrooke’s hospital yesterday, and it was all captured on a smartphone. 

By George Grylls

During elections, politicians are pictured colouring in with children, tending to elderly patients, and hitting the beat with bobbies. Walkabouts are designed to give broadcasters footage for news bulletins.

But yesterday at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, it all went wrong for Boris Johnson, and not for the first time. He was booed off the premises by both patients and staff. A junior doctor called Julia Simon eloquently explained her opposition to Tory austerity. All these scenes were filmed on smartphones and plastered across social media.

This is not the first time that a walkabout has gone wrong for Johnson. Last month the father of a sick child confronted him in Whipps Cross. Then, in the Conservative constituency of Morley and Outwood, a grinning man approached him to say “please leave my town”.

Angered by almost ten years of cuts, and emboldened by the knowledge that their smartphones give them the power to distribute their attacks instantaneously, people have grown wise to the old-fashioned walkabout popularised by New Labour. It seems Johnson is particularly liable to ambush.

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Campaigning with the general public has its pitfalls, as any politician knows. But walkabouts, which are supposed to help Johnson set the news agenda, could end up undermining him. Last night’s Ten O’Clock news resisted the temptation of showing Johnson fleeing doctors’ jeers. But for how long?

Johnson is supposed to be in his element on the campaign trail. But if he is to sell his newfound beneficence, he will have to visit many more hospitals, schools and constabularies. His team will be keeping a wary eye out for smartphones.