SECONDS OUT…ROUND FOURTEEN by Ian Hernon

Let’s hear it for ITV Yorkshire’s Joe Pike, the reporter who in the last days of the election blew away the carefully-scripted, stage management which has been employed by all the main parties during the interminable campaign.

He confronted Boris Johnson with the appalling image of a four-year-old boy being treated on a hospital floor in Leeds, saying: “Why don’t you look at it now, prime minister?”

After finally glancing at the picture, he then ludicrously pocketed the reporter’s phone, acting like an Eton prefect confiscating some lower-class oik’s device.

The footage went viral, being seen by six million on social media and by many millions more on the main TV news channels. At a stroke the carefully-cultivated party line that the NHS was safe in his hands was blown out of the water.

Throughout the campaign Conservative election strategists had been terrified of a “Boris moment”, the sort of foot-in-his mouth gaffe that had been a regular occurrence during his long march to No 10.

Now, with just a few days to polling, they had it. His normal, heavily-scripted trademark bluster couldn’t eradicate a moment that said a lot about the PM’s tetchy failure to empathise with the day-to-day lives of most Britons.

And unlike other blunders, this one got to the heart of whether he can be trusted with the NHS – images of a child with suspected pneumonia lying on the floor because his hospital can’t find a bed cannot be fobbed off as some Opposition stunt.

When Health Secretary Matt Hancock was then raced to the infirmary as a damage limitation exercise, he admitted that, after nine years of Tory-led rule, the demand for NHS resources is outstripping funding.

For the first time in weeks, the Tory lead in opinion polls shrank to single figures, putting us back into potential hung parliament territory. It is a reminder that Boris – supposedly his party’s greatest asset – can overnight turn into a liability.

True to form, however, Labour failed to exploit the occasion, instead providing their own home-grown blunder.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth, in a taped conversation leaked by a Tory “friend”, said the election prospects for Labour was “dire” and the party had made a mistake by not getting rid of Corbyn. He insisted that he was merely “joshing.” He told the BBC: “Of course it makes me look like a right plonker, but it’s not what I mean when I’m winding up a friend, trying to sort of, pull his leg a bit.”

I doubt that Jezza is laughing. Whatever the excuse, the man fronting Labour’s attack on the government’s NHS record appeared to say they haven’t a hope of winning under Corbyn.

But it is good that the choreography employed by all parties has fallen apart in the last act and the clod-hopping reality behind all the fine election promises are being revealed.

And for that, again, thanks Joe.

ROUND 14: Tories 5/10

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