THE day after the 2019 election, Boris Johnson hot-footed it to Sedgefield Cricket Club, once in the heartland of New Labour, to celebrate the remarkable success of his Conservative Party which had challenged and then changed voting patterns going back generations.

A Tory tsunami had swept along the Tees Valley, rippling from Redcar, Stockton and Darlington out into County Durham where Bishop Auckland, for instance, turned blue for the first time since it was created in 1885.

Boris Johnson at Sedgefield Cricket Club in December 2019 surrounded by newly elected Conservative MPs

“I want to thank all of you for the trust you have placed in the Conservative Party and in me,” said Mr Johnson, acknowledging the enormity of the moment, “and I know how difficult it was to make that decision.”

Perhaps he was lucky in facing a Labour leader in Jeremy Corbyn whose metropolitan politics were not attractive to the North East, and perhaps he was lucky in alighting on simple slogan – “get Brexit done” – that did chime with this leave-voting area.

But then he got unlucky. His Government was hit by a once in a century pandemic.

You really get the measure of a man when he faces adversity, and Mr Johnson was found wanting. That picture of the Queen sitting all alone and all in black at her husband’s funeral while Mr Johnson’s staff in Downing Street partied coming to define the dismay of the country.

A defining image of the moment the polls turned against the Conservatives: the Queen sits alone in St George's Chapel, Windsor, for the funeral of Prince Philip while staff in Downing Street were planning regulation-breaking gatherings

There were other scandals, from the fines for breaking lockdown regulations to the wandering hands of his deputy chief whip.

Perhaps it was the great expectations of 2019 that made the deep lamentations of 2022, but many who trusted Mr Johnson with their vote felt betrayed.

And in his place the Conservatives gave the country Liz Truss, a reckless, cloth-eared prime minister who didn’t even have the shelf-life of a lettuce. Her 50 days in office holed the Tories below the waterline, and however fast her successor Rishi Sunak has baled since, the party has been sinking.

Many in Richmond and Northallerton know Mr Sunak as a decent, honourable individual, but his managerial style has failed to overcome the big issues of the day – the cost of living (although inflation has fallen), NHS waiting lists and the small boats. Perhaps more importantly, his managerial style does not suggest he has the inspirational imagination to overcome those issues.

Rishi Sunak soaked to the skin in Downing Street. It never rains but it pours...

Perhaps he, too, has been unlucky. Unlucky with his inheritance, unlucky with that Downing Street shower, unlucky to be caught outside the Titanic quarter in Belfast, unlucky for his campaign to be overshadowed by his candidates and even policemen allegedly betting on the date of polling day.

However, his constituency includes Catterick, the largest army garrison in the country, and no one that you speak to there feels that his leaving the 80th anniversary of D-Day early was anything other than a terrible mis-step. He has apologised.

He has opened the door for Nigel Farage to return to the frontline of politics and grab the headlines.

Disruptors have a place – Reform UK’s £20,000 tax threshold idea is certainly revolutionary – but that doesn’t mean that their simple slogans offer genuine solutions. They also have some very worrying fellow travellers – “racist, misogynistic and bigoted” was how one candidate yesterday described the “vast majority” of Reform’s other candidates.

Such are the failings of the Tories that some voters might feel that their only choice is to back Reform. They should be very careful: Britain was bamboozled by a powerful personality in 2019 whose lack of substance was revealed later; Mr Farage’s chutzpah should not colour decisions in 2024.

In 2019, The Northern Echo didn’t back either of the main parties in its pre-election editorial. In fact, it urged its readers to shield their eyes while voting so they didn’t see either of the party leaders – the “dishonest” Johnson and the “toxic” Corbyn – while they chose a local candidate as their MP.

In a way, we do the same today. While nationally, it is hard to see how the Conservatives deserve much support at the ballot box, locally there is a record to defend – including the Treasury and Darlington station – as we saw in the sole success of Ben Houchen in the local elections six weeks ago, albeit with a huge swing against him.

Locally, readers will also weigh up the party’s reactions to the six crucial and specific points in the Echo’s manifesto – tackling child poverty is one of the best metrics when it comes to judging whether “levelling up” is genuine.

This is a strange election. There is none of the real excitement of 1997, when it felt the nation was plunging itself into a new era as the old, squabbling Tories led by John Major were replaced by the youthful confidence of Tony Blair, who put our area right at the centre of that change.

But, curiously, if the polls are right, Labour under Sir Keir Starmer could win an even bigger majority.

Sir Keir Starmer visits The Northern Echo in Darlington

That’s because Mr Starmer is no Jeremy Corbyn. When he visited the Echo office only a couple of months ago, we could see that this was a steady, serious politician – useful attributes for the days ahead, because while this election has been about domestic issues, foreign affairs in an increasingly worrying world are likely to dominate.

During the campaign, Mr Starmer’s cautious ways have not frightened any voters off – in fact, the fear is that he has boxed himself in by saying all the things he will not do and he may not be brave enough to introduce daring reform.

However, as readers add in local considerations to the national mood, we will understand if they decide to vote for change.