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Johnson Grapples Backlash Over NHS With Two Days to Go: U.K. Votes

(Bloomberg) — Boris Johnson said Brexit won’t happen unless his Tories win and used a secret recording of Labour health spokesman Jon Ashworth criticizing leader Jeremy Corbyn to attack his opponents.

The leaked recording, which Ashworth described as him “joking around” with an old friend in the Conservative Party, has helped Johnson’s Tories to shift focus away from a row about funding for the National Health Service that had the prime minister on the back foot on Monday.

Coming Up:

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn campaigns in Carlisle, northern EnglandJohnson spoke in Staffordshire before holding a rally in northwest England at about 8 p.m.YouGov releases update of their MRP poll for The Times at 10 p.m.ICM poll conducted for Reuters shows: Conservatives 42%; Labour 36%; Liberal Democrats 12%The Conservatives retain an 80% chance of an overall majority, according to Betfair

Johnson Sees “”Real, Real Risk” of Hung Parliament (4 p.m.)

Boris Johnson warned against complacency and said his Conservative Party is fighting for every vote. They are “absolutely not” home and dry ahead of the Dec. 12 election, he said at a campaign event.

“This is a very, very close fought election and we need every vote,” Johnson said. “The only mathematical alternative to a working majority Conservative government is the real, real risk of another hung Parliament. That’s another five years of confusion, chaos, dither, delay and division. We cannot go down that route.”

The premier also reminded voters the polls were wrong at the 2017 election. Asked what his plan B is for Brexit if he’s returned in a minority government, he said “you’re asking me to contemplate something pretty appalling. I don’t see any alternative but a working majority to deliver it.”

Johnson Attacks Corbyn Record (3:45 p.m.)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson launched a personal attack on his Labour opponent Jeremy Corbyn, saying it would be an economic disaster for Britain if he wins the election and, backed by the Scottish National Party, pursued another “toxic, divisive, pointless” referendum on EU membership.

“It would also be a political disaster because it would mean this country would be led by a Hamas-backing, IRA-supporting, antisemitism-condoning appeaser of the Kremlin, which is what he is,” Johnson said at an event at J C Bamford Excavators Ltd in Uttoxeter. “Look at the record.”

He then sought to make political capital of secretly-recorded comments by Labour health spokesman Jon Ashworth (see 11:30 a.m.). “If you doubt me, listen to what his health spokesman said today, Jon Ashworth,” Johnson said. “He revealed that he thinks his own leader is a security risk.”

In 2019, JCB, which hosted the event, donated 52,000 pounds to Johnson, according to figures released by political spending watchdog, the Electoral Commission. Separately, as an individual its Chairman Anthony Bamford gave 80,000 pounds to the prime minister.

Terror Victim’s Dad Hits Out at Johnson (2:45 p.m.)

The father of Jack Merritt, who was killed in the London Bridge terror attack last month, accused Boris Johnson of exploiting the tragedy to score political points.

Dave Merritt told Sky News the prime minister was ‘crass and insensitive” when he blamed Labour policies for the early release of attacker Usman Khan. The prime minister hasn’t contacted the family and they turned down the offer of a meeting with Home Secretary Priti Patel, Merritt said in an interview.

Jack, 25, was a course leader of the Cambridge University prison rehabilitation program which was hosting the conference in Fishmonger’s Hall where Khan, a guest at the event, launched his attack.

“Where most of us were watching this and seeing a tragedy unfolding in front of our eyes, instead of seeing a tragedy Boris Johnson saw an opportunity and he went on the offensive,” Merritt said. “The fact that it was used in such a political way, and I could see the good work that Jack did and that his colleagues did starting to perhaps unravel, it was important that somebody said something.”

Party Member Urged Swinson to Wear Low-Cut Top (1 p.m.)

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said a member of her party had urged her to wear a top with a lower neckline to attract votes.

“In that particular case it was” a party member, Swinson said in an interview on ITV’s “This Morning” program on Tuesday. “But I get Facebook messages all the time — speak differently, wear different shoes. A party member sent a message, so not someone from the team.”

As a new leader, the party branded its campaign bus as “Jo Swinson’s Liberal Democrats” to boost her name recognition. But polls show voters have failed to warm to the 39-year-old and that the party has failed to galvanize the almost half of U.K. voters who want to stay in the European Union.

“There’s a lot of abuse and focus on women in public life,” Swinson told ITV. “I want to change that, and one of the ways we can change that is actually by getting more women into leader positions… we’re going to change this over time and the way to do it is to step up to be leader.”

Johnson: Corbyn Will Waste Voters’ ‘Hard Graft’ (12:40 p.m.)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a Labour government would take the U.K. economy “back to square one” after a decade of “hard graft” by the British people to repair the economy after the financial crisis.

A coalition led by Corbyn would inflict “profound” damage on economic confidence, Johnson writes in Tuesday’s Evening Standard, according to the newspaper. “All the hard graft of the last decade, necessary to recover from the last time Labour left the economy in a mess, would be reversed overnight.”

Johnson’s editorial comes after the U.K. economy unexpectedly stagnated in October, making it three straight months without growth for the first time since 2009 (see 11 a.m.). The Evening Standard’s editor George Osborne, who was chancellor of the exchequer when the Tory party rolled out its program of austerity, told readers on Monday he will be voting Conservative on Dec. 12.

Investors Turn to Politicians for Edge (12 p.m.)

With politics continuing to drive the markets above all else, hedge funds are turning to politicians, experts and government officials for wisdom.

Hedge fund manager Luke Newman, who manages about $7 billion in long-short equity strategies at Janus Henderson Investors, positioned his fund for a Conservative victory in the election after seeking advice from government officials and political experts. Aberdeen Standard Investments has been ramping up its use of political connoisseurs, and Nomura International Plc has an election night model it developed after commissioning private polling.

Read more: Hedge Funds Are All Over U.K. Politics Seeking Edge on Election

Labour’s Ashworth Taped Criticizing Corbyn (11:30 a.m.)

Labour’s health spokesman Jon Ashworth has been recorded saying the party’s electoral chances are hopeless and that voters hate leader Jeremy Corbyn. Asked on the recording about whether Corbyn would be a security risk as prime minister, Ashworth said: “The machine will pretty quickly move to safeguard security,” but added that a Labour government is “not going to happen!”

Asked by the BBC about the recording, which was first published on the Guido Fawkes website, Ashworth said he had been “joking around” with an old friend, Greig Baker, who he described as a Tory activist. Baker, who runs a political consultancy, didn’t immediately respond to an email requesting comment. He has deleted his Twitter account.

The Tories wasted no time in jumping on the recording. “This is an honest and truly devastating assessment of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership by one of his most trusted election lieutenants,” party chairman James Cleverly said in an emailed statement.

Economy Stagnates Ahead of Election (11 a.m.)

The U.K. economy unexpectedly stagnated in October, the Office for National Statistics said on Tuesday, marking three straight months without growth for the first time since 2009.

Read more: U.K. Economy Fails to Grow Ahead of Brexit-Dominated Election

Gross domestic product was unchanged following two consecutive months of decline, according to the ONS. Economists had forecast a 0.1% expansion. GDP rose just 0.7% from a year earlier, the smallest increase since June 2012.

The figures, which provide the last economic snapshot before voters go to the polls on Thursday, highlight the toll being taken by years of Brexit uncertainty and a worsening global backdrop.

Row Over Child on Hospital Floor Rumbles On (10 a.m.)

The row over 4-year-old Jack Williment-Barr, who was photographed receiving treatment on the floor of Leeds General Infirmary, dominated the political broadcast round on Tuesday.

“It’s an example of what’s happening in our NHS,” Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn told the BBC, when asked about the boy’s situation becoming politicized. “It is a serious issue. It is a political issue, how we fund the NHS.”

Johnson triggered a backlash on Monday when he refused to look at the photo in a broadcast interview. Later, he appeared to divert attention by musing publicly about changing how the BBC is funded, before Tory officials wrongly briefed reporters that a party aide had been hit by a Labour supporter.

Questioned about Johnson’s tactics, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said the Tory leader had been dealing “with a very fluid situation.” The election should be “fought on the high ground and the big issues,” Buckland told BBC Radio. Johnson “did express sorrow and regret for what he saw.”

Farage Slams Johnson’s Brexit Deal (Earlier)

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said Boris Johnson’s divorce deal with the European Union would give the U.K. “indigestion for years.”

“If we pass the current EU treaty, this doesn’t get Brexit done, it takes us into years of negotiation,” Farage told BBC Radio on Tuesday. “Unless we get a Brexit Party voice in the House of Commons, we are not going to get a realistic Brexit because he’ll push through this new EU treaty as it is.”

Farage said his party “might get some” seats in Parliament, adding that gaining a “handful” would make a “massive” difference. The party’s support has slumped in the polls since Farage withdrew candidates from Tory-held seats. “We are going to get Brexit,” Farage said. “The questions is: Is it recognizable to the 17.4 million voters?”

How Newspapers Covered Political Spat Over NHS (Earlier)

Right-leaning newspapers including the Times, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express all left the story of Boris Johnson refusing to look at the picture of a 4-year-old boy sleeping on a hospital floor off their front pages, in favor of the prime minister’s threat on Monday to scrap the license system that funds the BBC.

In contrast, the left-leaning Guardian’s top story focused on how the Conservatives dispatched Health Secretary Matt Hancock to the hospital in Leeds, northern England, but then made matters worse by briefing journalists that a Labour supporter had assaulted Hancock’s aide, before video of the incident showed this to be untrue.

And the Daily Mirror ran on its front page a story about a different child waiting for treatment under the headline: “Here’s another picture you won’t want to see, Mr Johnson.”

Earlier:

Johnson Has a Bad Day as Health Moves to Center of U.K. ElectionBoris Johnson Is Hiding the Price of Brexit: Therese RaphaelU.K. Vote Is One Pit Stop in Long Brexit Road for Pound, Gilts

(Previous versions had the wrong name for fund manager in 12 p.m. entry)

–With assistance from Andrew Atkinson, Brian Swint, Charlotte Ryan, Jessica Shankleman, Kitty Donaldson and Robert Hutton.

To contact the reporters on this story: Greg Ritchie in Uttoxeter at gritchie10@bloomberg.net;Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Stuart Biggs, Mark Williams

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