Downing Street hopes supermarket’s ‘small C conservatives’ will keep PM in power – but Colin Drury finds them unconvinced
But now it seems middle-class shoppers at the partnership’s supermarkets have been identified as the group that can keep her husband Boris in power.
“Waitrose woman” is reported to be the voter demographic Downing Street reckons is crucial if the prime minister is to reverse plummeting ratings and defy rebellious Tory MPs in the wake of both Partygate and the cost of living crisis.
Like “Mondeo man” and “Worcester woman” before, she is, of course, a fictionalised construct based on stereotypes – the product of market researchers and focus groups.
But does “Waitrose woman” actually back Johnson at all?
“What a load of nonsense,” says Jane Jenkins as she and her husband unload their weekly shop at the supermarket’s Sheffield branch. “I think voters are a little more complex than where we shop. Are they saying they know my entire personality because I come here?”
What does Waitrose woman even mean, she asks?
Apparently, she is middle class, conservative with a small C, probably voted against Brexit and is unambiguously unimpressed by Johnson’s cavalier attitude to breaking lockdown laws when she herself almost certainly stuck to them.
Does that describe Jenkins? A pause. “Actually, I suppose it does,” the 68-year-old retired teacher admits. “Especially the bit about being unimpressed by his parties.”
She voted Lib Dem in 2019 – mainly a tactical vote against Labour – but, while she once thought Johnson would make a decent fist of leading the country, she no longer believes that’s the case.
“He’s had his day,” she says “His whole character is about riding roughshod over rules and I think that was probably part of the appeal to start with – he was different from other politicians – but there comes a point when you’ve ridden over so many rules that it becomes too much for people. And I suspect that’s where he’s at. I think the goodwill has gone.”
If you liked Johnson before he came to power, you probably still like him now, according to one theory that suggests opinions for and against have changed little by his time in No 10.
But this doesn’t seem to quite hold true for Waitrose woman — at least in this car park on a breezy Tuesday afternoon.
“He’s had a huge amount to deal with, and I think he’s done some of it very well,” says Pauline Caley. “But he’s been very, very silly too.”
The retired bank worker thinks the PM had done some good things in unprecedented times over the last three years. She mentions – as people do – the Covid-19 vaccine rollout and furlough payments as being particular triumphs.
Nor has his partying been a problem. “It hasn’t upset me personally,” says the 75-year-old. “There’s more dramatic things than someone having a drink with the people they work with.”
Her husband Timothy, also 75, adds that it is important prime ministers are forgiven for mistakes — “otherwise what do they learn from?”
And yet neither of them – both Conservative supporters as a general rule – feel they would vote for Johnson again. Not because of lockdown breaches, they say, but rather a whole host of things including his misplaced support of Dominic Cummings, his initial reluctance to help more with the cost of living crisis and his recent watering down of ministerial code so that resignations are no longer automatically expected from those in breach.
“If I endorsed him in future, it would only be because there were no other suitable candidates,” says Timothy.
A nod of agreement from his wife of 54 years. “What a state of things,” she says. “Is this really the best we have?”
Do neither of them like Sir Keir Starmer? While they are disappointed about Johnson’s lockdown parties, they also feel the leader of the opposition has given it too much energy.
“I understand he wants to take advantage, but there are other things going on.”
Audrey Wade, 82, has never voted Conservative in her life – and certainly won’t be starting on the back of the last two years.
The retired perfumist is shopping with husband John, a one-time football scout with Sheffield Wednesday. They like Waitrose for one key reason – a staff discount earnt from almost 30 years working for John Lewis.
Aside from their football club being blue and white, they’re red through and trough, they say. “The way he’s behaved,” says Audrey, “it’s unbecoming of someone in that position. He doesn’t care about anyone but himself.”
John agrees – but has another gripe.
“He’s slovenly,” he says. “It’s embarrassing for the country to be [represented by] like that. He always has his shirt hanging out. I wouldn’t have gone on a football pitch looking as scruffy as he does.”
He thinks about this for a few seconds, resting on his trolley.
“I wouldn’t have come off a football pitch looking as scruffy as he does,” he adds.