Labour losing Sedgefield, Tony Blair’s old seat, was perhaps the most potent symbol of Boris Johnson’s stunning ability to flip seats in the so-called “Red Wall” that had voted for Labour for generations.

Boris Johnson’s One Nation Toryism is being portrayed as his trump card in reeling in Northern and Midland voters who had previously never considered the Conservatives. However, Tory attempts to woo tranches of these voters have been going on for almost a decade.

David Cameron’s electoral successes in 2010 and 2015 admittedly owed relatively little to these areas. While his ability to peel seats off Labour in the West Midlands was useful, major inroads in London and the slow squeezing out of the Liberal Democrats in the Southwest was also vital.

Belatedly, Cameron and his chief ally George Osborne looked keen to try expand Conservative reach into areas which had been lost to the party ever since deindustrialisation in the 1980s. The most obvious part of this strategy was of course Osborne’s much touted Northern Powerhouse initiative. Planned investment in cities like Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, and Newcastle aimed not just to rebalance the economy regionally and deal with persistent poverty in these areas – it was also an attempt to rebuild Tory party credibility.

Tied to this were experiments in devolution with the creation of regional level mayors many of which were in Northern and Midlands areas. Local politics is often a petri dish for national politics and these mayoralties offered a chance to see what sort of Conservatives could gain traction in areas traditionally out of the party’s reach. Notably, newly created metro-mayors were modelled on the Mayor of London – a post at the time filled by Boris Johnson, then the face of liberal Toryism.

The irony is of course that as these efforts looked to be bearing some fruit – with Conservatives winning mayoralties in the Tees Valley and Greater Birmingham areas in 2017 – Cameron was out of power.

Brexit meant pro-Remain cities have been alienated from the Tories, but smaller pro-Brexit towns have more than made up for it. Theresa May focused more on these small towns with a blue-collar agenda pushed by advisors such as Nick Timothy.

The final twist is of course that while this strategy failed, or fell short, for May in 2017 it succeeded for Boris Johnson. The man who had been the representative of Remain’s London heartlands somehow appealed to small Northern and Midlands towns.

What lies behind Johnson succeeding where his predecessors failed? The Cameron project actually had some success but it only got off the ground properly once he had left office. The project’s appeal was limited by austerity which cut services in cities still struggling with deprivation. Finally, voting is often a tribal affair and the Cameron project did not offer a vision that fundamentally disrupted popular allegiances in these areas.

For May, Brexit did offer an opportunity to try to disrupt established tribal voting patterns by rallying Leave voters. Her moves to sideline Osborne and declare austerity over formed part of this appeal. May hoped to create her own One Nation Toryism that seemed less slanted towards the South and the affluent. While the 2017 election was a disaster for the Tories, May’s appeal did gain some traction – just not enough.

Boris’s victory was built on top of the advances made in 2017. In many seats which swung to the Conservatives the party did not win that many more votes this time. The key was the sharp drop in the Labour vote fuelled not just by Brexit but the growing toxicity of Corbyn, a gift that kept on giving for the Conservatives.

Boris is clearly aware of the caveats that attend his success. In his victory speech he addressed voters who swung Tory after generations voting Labour. He said: “You may only have lent us your vote”. If he can keep them, he will not only cement another term but will have fundamentally reshaped the electoral map in a way that will benefit the Conservatives for decades. Look out too for boundary reform at some point.

He has already committed to increases in spending that would never have been countenanced by the Cameron and May governments. While much of this is aimed at the NHS there is also talk of a £100 billion infrastructure fund which will focus heavily on the North and Midlands.

However, major projects such as expanding rail networks in the North will, even with the best will in the world, only just be getting started by 2024. If he wishes to see electoral dividends on his investments Boris will have to avoid his penchant for flashy mega-projects and focus on smaller initiatives which can be delivered quickly such as improving local buses and trams. This would also mean cooperation with the powerful new metro-mayors.

If done deftly this could not just consolidate Conservative presence in areas like Tees-side but even mean Boris makes further inroads in cities like Manchester, which Osborne had hoped to make “a new London in the North.” The Tories look determined to continue redrawing the map.