7 Jun 2017

Theresa May’s final campaign speech

I am at the last venue for Theresa May’s campaign, just outside Birmingham. Half a dozen cabinet ministers just turned up to act as part of the backdrop for her last on camera address to voters. The last time we saw them together was the fateful manifesto launch in Halifax.

This has been a campaign of two halves for the Tories. At the beginning, they walked on water. Labour switchers came in droves on top of the UKIP switchers. One MP standing for re-election said it was like “whizzing down a flume.” After the manifesto it was “very different, hero to zero.” Tories still got the UKIP switchers in decent numbers but some of the Labour switchers became a stickier proposition. Nonetheless, there’s a suspicion that a monumental lead in seats has reduced to a pretty historic one.

The campaign may prove to be a story of two Englands. London seats and some constituencies in other main cities are said to be much tougher to shift than the provincial towns of the Midlands and the North. In post-industrial England, where once they cursed the Tories, many now turn to them, surprising themselves in many cases. The man who said to me in Halifax on manifesto day that his father would be spinning in his grave spoke a line I’ve heard often since.

Now Theresa May has just delivered her final address of the campaign. They really didn’t need the whole function room. As ever, it was tightly controlled, placard wielding supporters, exactly what the CCHQ team organised for David Cameron in 2015.

There was a panto warm-up by Boris Johnson. Then came the words you’ve heard so often from Theresa May, almost completely in the same order you’ve heard them before.

The Cabinet ministers then slipped out, away from the cameras. In the car park, like an ornithologist surveying the skies for rare birds, I spotted Andrea Leadsom and Liam Fox. At least I think I did. It’s been some time since I’ve seen them.

I don’t think you can dismiss out of hand the choice of venues for Theresa May visits. The average Labour majority in the nearly 40 Labour held seats she has visited is just over 5,000. Tory money buys impressive data teams. The Conservatives are by far the most intelligence-led of the campaigns. The suddenness of the election probably means they haven’t been working off data as complete as they might like, but voices within CCHQ are talking tonight of a majority of up to 70 and that suggests their real expectations exceed that.

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