Boris Johnson’s toilet humour might have won him favour once, but not anymore

People in those must-win marginals hit by the floods don’t want to vote for a “fun Tory”.

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Boris Johnson accused Jeremy Corbyn of planning to hold two referendums in 2020 (one on Brexit, and a second on Scottish independence), but all anyone is talking about is masturbation, after CCHQ trailed that the Prime Minister would refer to those referendums as an act of “onanism”.

There are a lot of questionable choices here. The two referendums charge – unlike the trillion pounds of spending, or Priti Patel's false claim today that Labour will extend the free movement of people across the world – has the rare benefit of being true. Unless Labour wins a parliamentary majority, which is highly unlikely given the strength of the SNP, it will be dependent on the support of other political parties – that means another independence referendum for the SNP and another Brexit referendum for everyone else.

But it's not clear to me, from either the polls or my travels across the country, that it is in the Conservatives' interests to paint Labour as the party of a second referendum. The Tories look to be at or near the upper limit of what they can win from Leave voters – the party enjoys a consistent opinion poll lead because some Remainers who voted Labour in 2017 aren't at the moment planning on doing so again. Now, some of those voters are rejecting Labour for other reasons, chief among them anti-Semitism, but the reality is that, for most, the major issue is a lack of trust over Brexit. Attacking Labour as the party of a second referendum looks highly risky on the Conservatives' part.

The second questionable choice is that word “onanism”. The point and purpose of Johnson's use of arcane words and toilet humour during his days on Have I Got News For You or before he became Prime Minister was to send a simple message: he is not like other Tories. He's a cuddly Tory, a fun Tory! But wasn't the message yesterday meant to be about how a Labour vote means two referendums in 2020? Do people in those must-win marginals hit by the floods want to vote for a fun Tory? Don't they want a serious Prime Minister who can get the house in order, literally and figuratively.

We know that Johnson is good at selling Brand Boris. But he could yet come undone if he can't reliably sell Brand Tory.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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