I spoke to one senior Tory who’s been inside the CCHQ operation and struggled to think of more than a tiny handful of Tory MPs who he thinks are seriously worried about the prospect of losing their seats.
Compare that with the bold list of target seats the Tories are still hoping to take off Labour, and you can see how the party’s internal polling and voter analysis is clearly way off the recent YouGov analysis projections, just as it was in 2015.
At the heart of David Cameron’s 2015 campaign was a squeeze on Lib Dem seats, many of them in the South West of England. When you look down what we believe to be the target seats at the heart of Theresa May’s campaign (the Tories aren’t releasing a list), quite a few of them are former coal-mining seats in the North of England. We visited Mansfield, Labour since 1923, which we do know to be one of the targets and which Theresa May visited last month.
At the heart of the Tory strategy is based on squeezing the UKIP vote which swelled in seats like this in 2015 as disgruntled ex-Labour voters left their political home. There’s every sign in Mansfield that vote is delivering big prizes for the Tories. Ex-miners who moved from Labour to UKIP 2 years ago told us they were now going to vote “for her.” Some were still uncomfortable saying they were voting “Conservative.” One even told us he’d apologised to his late father and grandfather, communing with their spirits to explain his actions. “UKIP started Brexit,” one said. “We need her to finish the job.”
You do find some signs of slippage here for the Tories. Nobody I spoke to brought up Theresa May’s robotic presentation or her absence from the debates. But you do find people who felt she’d be “good for Brexit” but who “worry what else she’d do while we got her.” I found a former Lib Dem voter who thought she’d never vote Labour but felt there was no choice if she wanted boosted spending on the NHS and schools. We also met a young, second-time voter who leaned towards Labour in 2015 but was now seriously excited about the cause under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
The last time that Labour came close to losing this seat was in 1987, in the aftermath of the miners’ strike. The centre-left vote was split back then by a Social Democrat candidate running against Labour. It reflected divisions in a community rent apart by the pro and anti strike causes. Despite the injection of new housing often built on top of the old mines you can still discern which communities were pro-strike/pro-NUM and which were anti-strike/pro-UDM, the breakaway miners’ union. “There are now still some families that aren’t talking to one another,” one ex-striking miner told us.
Layered upon all that history, another chapter could be being written next week.