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Upcoming U.K. Election: Johnson And Corbyn Emphasize Different Issues


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is running in next month's election on a simple slogan - get Brexit done. But his challenger, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, is instead focusing on Britain's economy, promising a radical socialist overhaul. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports from the English town of Dudley.


FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Corbyn, his supporters and some journalists squeezed into this pensioners club in England's West Midlands, about a two-hour train ride north of London, and promised to reverse the government's spending cuts that have plagued communities across the country since the global financial crisis.

JEREMY CORBYN: Swimming polls closed, libraries sold, youth centers boarded up - all of these things, that is the product of 10 years of austerity always hitting hardest on the poorest within our society. The same time the same government has said the way to boost our economy is to give tax relief to the wealthiest.

LANGFITT: Corbyn acknowledges his solutions are radical - renationalizing Britain's rail, mail and energy sectors, scrapping university tuition fees and building 150,000 low-income housing units a year.


LANGFITT: Corbyn inspires devotion among supporters. Lisa Ellis (ph) is wearing a T-shirt with his face on it. She's waiting outside for a photo with the Labour Party leader.

LISA ELLIS: It's my birthday. I've always wanted to meet him. I just think he's got the best morals of anybody I've ever known. He's just such a good man.

LANGFITT: Corbyn has vowed to fix England's National Health Service where Ellis is a mental health worker. The NHS, as it's called, provides free service and is a source of national pride. Today, it's underfunded understaffed and demoralized.

ELLIS: I've watched mental health be cut back to the bone so there's - we've got nothing to offer people anymore - nothing.

LANGFITT: Mark Davis (ph), a retired special needs teacher, likens Corbyn to another lifelong socialist.

MARK DAVIS: Bernie Sanders has worked for the people all his life, and so has Jeremy. Their whole focus is on helping people. It's not about helping the rich.

LANGFITT: That's a profile that should resonate here in Dudley, a former industrial town and longtime Labour seat in Parliament. But the site of an old steel plant is now a giant mall, and the economy struggles. Davis likens it to parts of America's upper Midwest. Dudley voted heavily for Brexit. Davis fears people here will back Johnson's Conservative or Tory Party instead of what he says is their economic self-interest with Corbyn and Labour.

DAVIS: It's like a turkey voting for Christmas. It's suicidal. And they'll still vote Tory.

LANGFITT: A short walk down the hill sits the Britannia Inn, a cozy pub.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Nine pound fifteen, please.

LANGFITT: The crowd here tonight can't stand Corbyn. They say his policies will hurt the economy and his convoluted Brexit position - Corbyn wants to negotiate a new Brexit deal and hold another referendum - is a non-starter. Derrick Hope (ph), a taxi driver, wants to get Brexit done. He says immigration from Eastern Europe has brought more crime here.

DERRICK HOPE: I think the Conservatives will win because they want out of Europe. Most of us want out of Europe.

LANGFITT: Hope is also a fan of President Trump. Boris Johnson, he says, is a lot like the American president.

HOPE: Well, I think he's funny. He's a good bloke. And I think he might tell the truth now and then.

LANGFITT: What do you find funny about Boris?

HOPE: He's a bit of a buffoon, just the way he talks and everything. And, you know, he's had a few affairs and that and people bring it up, but who cares? Haven't we all?

LANGFITT: The Labour Party is well behind the Conservatives in recent polls. Brexit has dominated British politics for more than three years, and some Corbyn supporters fear it will determine the coming election. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Dudley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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