Tories still up for the fight as Cameron gains steam
Fallout of Scottish National Party wins now being raised on voters’ doorsteps
Prime minister David Cameron speaks to workers during a visit to Kelvin Hughes Voltage in Enfield, north London, yesterday. Photograph: Chris Radburn/PA Wire
Questioned about the size of the majority he enjoyed in the 2010 general election to win in Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, Conservative Oliver Colvile responds without a moment’s hesitation, “1,149”.
The numbers are scorched into his mind. Today, he is facing an uphill battle, if polling figures are accurate, to return to the Commons, since Labour has the constituency as the 20th most likely to fall to them on May 7th.
However, Colvile, like a succession of other Conservatives in recent days, expresses confidence, insisting that “the story on the doorsteps” is different to the one told about a lacklustre party campaign.
“The electorate is only now waking up, in the last 10 days of the campaign,” says Colvile, who has pressed for Sinn Féin’s Rita O’Hare’s extradition from Dublin at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.
Like others, Colvile says that the predictions that the Scottish National Party will win scores of seats on May 7th is being raised, though he rejects charges that English nationalism is getting a voice.
“It isn’t an anti-Scottish thing; it isn’t even anti-Scottish National Party. It’s a belief that Labour has little political capital down here and will divert funds to Scotland either to buy off the SNP, or to rebuild itself there,” he says.
CollapseColvile held off Labour five years ago, with the Liberal Democrats coming third with a quarter of the vote. Today, the latter’s support has collapsed. Some polls estimate that it could be backed now by just 6 per cent of voters there.
If the polls are accurate, some of the freed-up vote has gone to the Greens; but much of it has gone to Labour, while Colvile is vulnerable, too, to seepage from his own vote to the UK Independence Party (Ukip).
In the past week, a narrative has grown, one that says that Labour is running the better campaign; Ed Miliband’s greater confidence is being noted by voters; while the Conservatives’ vote is flat-lining.
None of that is untrue, necessarily. However, a succession of Conservative candidates – even allowing for the discount required for declarations during campaigns – insist that things are going to come right in the final days.
“Yes, the campaign has been a mess. Everything was so structured for three years; but Labour has fought effectively. However, their local campaign has not been as good as they say,” says one campaign insider.
AudiencesHowever, Conservatives insist it matters little with audiences that thought little of him before: “It is not changing the view people have of him in the north of England – it’s too late for that,” one source claimed.
Since Sunday, David Cameron has started to look more passionate and using colourful language – such as telling Labour “to stick it where the sun don’t shine”, and appearing with rolled-up shirt sleeves.
Cameron’s people have been keen to get the message across. Craig Oliver, Cameron’s head of communications, has taken to texting journalists telling them how passionate the prime minister had been at particular gatherings earlier in the day.
The danger, of course, is that the public will interpret late-arriving passion as insincerity. However, Conservative strategists disagree: “People see the clip on the TV news from the speech, no more. And the clip works.”
A succession of Conservatives offer anecdotes from the street, illustrating their belief that the danger ahead of political instability, real or imagined, is beginning to weigh upon voters’ minds. One said: “I had a conversation, a long one, the other day with one voter through his bathroom window because he couldn’t find his keys. He wasn’t happy with us about a number of things, but he is still voting for us.”
Drifting supportSupport that had drifted away from the Conservatives to Ukip is slowly coming back; but also, the party believes that the support Ukip has won from Labour is not returning.
The days ahead will test nerves, particularly since all parties have struggled to get their messages across.
One Conservative campaigner said: “Nothing said on policy by anyone has moved the gauge. The public has always discounted what politicians say during elections.
“But this time they have gone much further. It’s striking how many voters say they have enough information, but they haven’t yet decided how they will vote.”