Risk-averse May delivers message to hand-picked supporters

Prime minister is the alpha and the omega of the Conservatives’ election campaign

It was, on the face of it, an audacious move for Theresa May to campaign in Harehills, a deprived area of Leeds where Conservative voters are numbered in the low hundreds. But the prime minister saw little of the local poverty and social blight as she swept into a business centre to address a hand-picked group of supporters.

This has been the pattern of her campaign so far, one of brief, tightly-controlled appearances with a short stump speech followed by a handful of questions from pre-selected reporters. May has ruled out taking part in televised debates and there are no plans to expose her to the even riskier town-hall format, where she would face questions from the public.

Still, the prime minister is the alpha and the omega of the Conservative campaign, as the vast sign behind her at Harehills trumpeted. "Theresa May – strong, stable leadership in the national interest," it read, with no mention of the Conservatives at all. If the polls are right, the formula is working and party activist Pat Kilpatrick said the prime minister is the biggest selling point on the doorsteps.

“She’s just a sort of good egg all round, a good person. Well that’s how she comes over. And she appeals to everybody. You hear people who were staunch Labourites and they’re saying, good on Mrs May. Because she’s saying what they want to hear, which hasn’t been done, and there’s nobody else sticking up for the general population really,” she said.


Part of May's appeal lies in her lack of showmanship, evident in the pleasing awkwardness with which she acknowledges applause, with a stiff nod and a smile no broader than necessary. But if her manner is modest, her message is openly aggressive in attacking Labour and unabashed in identifying herself as the only politician capable of providing the strong and stable leadership of her campaign slogan.

“That is why in this election – the most important election this country has faced in my lifetime – every single vote counts. And everyone in our country has a positive reason to lend me their vote

“Because this election is not about who you may have voted for in the past. It is about voting in the national interest. Voting for the future,” she said.

"And every vote cast for me through my local Conservative candidates in cities like Leeds, and in towns and cities across the UK, will strengthen my hand when I negotiate with the prime ministers, presidents and chancellors of Europe in the months ahead."

Boos for Sturgeon

Shaun Clark, a retired businessman, voted Remain in last year's referendum and he is reassured by the fact that May also initially opposed leaving the EU. He believes many former Remainers accept, as he does, that now that the decision has been made to leave, it's best to get on with it.

"She seems to have a strong will, she knows what she wants and she wants to try and achieve that. And I think it's right that she's trying to seek the backing of the British public across the United Kingdom, " he said.

May's audience booed when she mentioned Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon but Conservative activists speak of Jeremy Corbyn more with pity than with anger. Ronnie Feldman, a former Conservative mayor of Leeds, believes that Britain needs a strong opposition, and he is uncomfortable with talk about a Conservative landslide in June.

“There is such a thing as too big a majority. What I would like her to have is a good, solid majority so that, if half a dozen MPs don’t like what she’s doing, she can say to them, well the other 94 per cent do like what I’m doing,” he said.

“It’s not a good thing to be totally in control because I don’t know anybody who gets it right all the time. There’s always room for second thoughts, which is really what an opposition should do.”