“We’re backing Boris!”
That’s the clear message from Wigan borough’s Conservative politicians as the final two candidates battle it out to lead the party and become prime minister.
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Boris Johnson is the overwhelming choice of those wearing the blue rosette locally rather than former health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
That reflects the opening rounds of the leadership campaign in which the controversial ex-Mayor of London and former foreign secretary was the clear choice of Tory MPs.
Mr Johnson has in recent days come under intense scrutiny for his record in public office and character, especially since police were called to a domestic incident late at night.
But, in a Leave heartland, it is his unflinching support for Brexit and willingness to set an absolute departure date from the European Union (EU) even if this is on no-deal terms which most impresses Conservative councillors and the party’s local MP.
Chris Green, who represents Bolton West, which includes Atherton, said: “The biggest question of our time is Brexit. Do we leave or don’t we, and if we do, how do we do it?
“I do believe he can deliver on Brexit by October 31, he can unite the Conservative Party and he can unite the country.
“He’s one of those rare politicians who can reach out and who people are interested in.
“In London one of the key issues is crime and problems with law and order. In my constituency after Brexit that is the biggest issue. As mayor Boris really delivered on that, cutting crime by 20 per cent, and I think this is what people right across Wigan borough want, a real change of agenda on law and order.”
Criticism of Mr Johnson has been ramping up but prominent Conservative councillors in the borough said that would actually prove to be counter-productive and was due to political opponents being worried about his popularity with the public.
Wigan Council leader of the opposition Coun Michael Winstanley said: "People on the left are so obsessed with matters of his personal life because they are frightened of him being Conservative Party leader. That's why they have gone into meltdown.
"They see he is an election winner. He led Vote Leave which won and he beat Ken Livingstone for London Mayor twice.
"My view is also that I want whoever wins this contest to be able to take us out of the EU on October 31. Out of the two candidates there's only one talking in that way and that's Boris. He's got my support."
Coun James Grundy, who represents Lowton East ward, said: "People are going out of their way to destroy Boris’ character but that seems to be galvanising Conservative members and makes them more likely to vote for him. All they see is a ‘destroy Boris’ campaign in left-leaning parts of the media.
“Boris Johnson is clear on the issue of Brexit, that we need to get out by October 31 one way or the other.
“I’m also impressed, from a local point of view, by his proposal to review HS2 in the North of England and look at investing the money into better transport links between Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds. He thinks along the same lines as we do on that."
Coun Grundy’s colleagues in Lowton East, Coun Ed Houlton and Coun Kath Houlton, are also supporting Mr Johnson, as is Coun Ray Whittingham, one of two politicians wearing the blue rosette in Standish with Langtree.
Coun Whittingham said: “I thought Theresa May was doing her job but she looked like she had to get on with something and in the end I thought she wasn’t the person for it.
“Boris is ticking all the right boxes for me. We’re going to leave one way or the other on October 31 and as far as I’m concerned that’s what we want. Brexit is a big thing for me.
“I think Jeremy Hunt is a good politician but he’s a bit wishy-washy, he doesn’t stand up and shine.
“Boris comes across as a bit of a comic, some would say a buffoon, but I wouldn’t say that myself. I think he’s a very clever buffoon.”
The Wigan Post also contacted Coun Richard Clayton for Orrell ward and Standish representative Coun Adam Marsh.