LONDON, England (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s election campaign launch was marred by the resignation of one of his ministers, a gaffe about the victims of a deadly tower blaze and a doctored video of an opponent released by his party.
Johnson called a snap Dec. 12 election in a bid to break the Brexit deadlock that he says has paralyzed Britain for more than three years and had started to undermine confidence in the world’s fifth largest economy.
But just an hour after meeting Queen Elizabeth to formally begin the election campaign, Johnson’s minister for Wales, Alun Cairns, resigned after being accused of lying about his knowledge about an aide who allegedly sabotaged a rape trial..
At the start of the campaign, Johnson’s Conservatives enjoy a lead over the opposition Labour Party of between 7 and 17 percentage points, though pollsters warn that their models are wilting beside the Brexit furnace.
“Let’s get Brexit done,” Johnson, 55, said outside his Downing Street official residence, adding that Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn would bring yet more turmoil with fresh referendums on EU membership and Scottish independence.
“Come with us, get Brexit done and take this country forward, or, and this is the alternative next year, spend the whole of 2020 in a horror show of yet more dither and delay,” he said.
Johnson said Corbyn hated wealth and was thus like Soviet leader Josef Stalin – who sent millions to their deaths in labor camps. Corbyn said such remarks were “nonsense” that the super-rich came up with to avoid paying more tax.
Earlier, Conservative Party Chairman James Cleverly spent the morning defending distributing a doctored video clip of a rival Labour Party politician instead of touting Johnson’s election campaign launch.
Another prominent Conservative, Jacob Rees-Mogg, apologized on Tuesday after he suggested that victims of the blaze at London’s Grenfell Tower should have used common sense to ignore firefighters’ instructions to stay in the burning building.
Johnson, 55, hopes he will win a big enough majority in parliament to get the Brexit deal he agreed with Brussels last month ratified and lead Britain out of the EU at the end of December or in January.
After failing to deliver Brexit on Oct. 31, Johnson said his party offered the only way to deliver Brexit and painted Labour’s Corbyn as a socialist wrecker determined to bring in yet more political crisis.
“They pretend that their hatred is directed only at certain billionaires – and they point their fingers at individuals with a relish and a vindictiveness not seen since Stalin persecuted the kulaks,” Johnson wrote in an article for the Daily Telegraph newspaper. “They would destroy the very basis of this country’s prosperity.”
Millions of people were executed under Stalin and many more perished from abuse and disease in a vast network of prison camps, known as the Gulags. Relatively affluent farmers, known as kulaks, were among the groups targeted.
Speaking at a campaign event in the English town of Telford on Wednesday, Corbyn said Labour would deliver real change and share power and wealth with people who “don’t have friends in high places”.
“They quite shamefully think the victims of Grenfell fire died because they didn’t have the common sense to save themselves,” Corbyn said. “I’ll tell you what’s common sense -don’t put flammable cladding on people’s homes.”
He also cautioned against believing the consensus view that Johnson was assured victory, citing the 2017 election when Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, bet on calling a snap election when also far ahead in the polls but lost her majority.
“In the 2017 election, there were queues of experts … lining up at the beginning of the campaign to write off the Labour Party, and what happened then?” Corbyn said.
Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper in Telford and Kate Holton in London; Writing by William James and Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Alex Richardson