In their attempt to avoid a repeat of 2017, the Tories have cleared another hurdle. A day on from the launch of their manifesto, there are no policies that are alienating core voters (the dementia tax) or target voters (means testing the winter fuel allowances). Instead, the biggest row is over whether using a net figure for the number of new nurses, rather than a gross one, is acceptable.
So with their manifesto safely launched and the Labour one appearing not to have had the seismic impact that the 2017 one did, are the Tories now on course for a majority? The current trajectory is favourable to them. That seat projection at the weekend which had the Tories on course of a forty-odd seat majority seems about right. But there are still two causes of concern to the Tory leadership.
The first is tactical voting. If Remainers decide en masse to vote for the candidate best placed to beat the Tory, then that Tory majority will start to come down very fast.
As I say in the magazine this week, Jeremy Corbyn is a major impediment to this kind of tactical voting. His decision to announce that he’ll be neutral in any second Brexit referendum gives the Lib Dems a chance to shore up their Remain base; it is hard to imagine he can squeeze the Lib Dems as effectively as the Tories have squeezed the Brexit party from a neutral position.
Another problem with tactical voting is that there are a number of seats where it is not clear whether Labour or the Lib Dems have a better chance of defeating the Tories.
The second worry of the Tory leadership is a sense that a Tory victory is inevitable. This was one of the things that most hurt Theresa May in 2017; people thought they were being asked to choose between a Tory landslide and a slim majority. This made voting to kick the Tories seem fairly risk-free.
To date, this campaign has been seen as a choice between a hung parliament and a Tory majority. This has suited the Tories. It enables them to emphasise that they are the only party that can break the deadlock in parliament. It also allows them to reprise their 2015 warnings about how a weak Labour leader will be bossed around by the SNP. But if everyone thinks the Tories are going to win, the potency of that message goes.
Equally, if a Tory victory is regarded as certain then voters’ concerns about Jeremy Corbyn will begin to recede too. As one Tory defending a seat from the Lib Dems puts it, if his constituents think that their seat makes the difference between a hung parliament and a Tory majority then he’ll be returned, such is his voters’ fear of Corbyn. But if his voters think his seat will give Boris Johnson a comfortable majority, then they’ll take the opportunity to kick the Tories over Brexit. There is also a danger that Labour voters who switched drift back in fright at the idea of the Tories being let off the leash with a large majority.
There are still two and a half weeks to go in this campaign. But the Tories will definitely be the happiest of the parties with how the first half of the campaign has gone. They are in the strongest position heading into the final fortnight.
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