“There are three big events; there’s the EU referendum, the American election and the Stoke-on-Trent byelection,” he tells rows of students assembled at Stoke sixth-form college.
Gareth Snell, Labour’s candidate in the town’s upcoming byelection, is standing beside Johnson on the podium. Snell faces a similar fight against the same forces of rising populism that elected Trump, Johnson says, in the shape of Ukip leader Paul Nuttall.
“It is not hyperbole to say this is crucial in Stoke. Ukip have one MP, their leader is standing in this election,” he tells the group, straining to be heard above the noise from the nearby lunch tables. “He doesn’t care about Stoke, and Gareth is steeped in this area, his kids go to school here. Gareth’s vision is for what happens to cities like Stoke after Brexit. Your decision is about where that will take us.”
In 2015, Stoke-on-Trent Central was the only constituency in the UK where the majority of the electorate did not vote. Former MP Tristram Hunt, who quit parliament in January to become director of the V&A museum, was elected by just 19% of his constituents, with Ukip close behind.
In a town where 62% of locals voted for Brexit, Labour’s key attack on the Ukip leader is that the town is nothing but a useful vehicle for Nuttall to get to Westminster, compared with…