THE BLOG

Me, Mayself And I

04/05/2017 10:15
Neil Hall / Reuters

This blog is adapted from the Thursday 4 May edition of The Waugh Zone, which can be read here, and subscribed to here

Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron sparred with each other last night, but the real issue here in Blighty is whether we are in the middle of our very own British Presidential election. That's certainly how it felt yesterday as Theresa May appeared in Downing Street to effectively declare war on 'Brussels'.

The PM's broadside at the EU was obviously aimed at Leave voters of all parties, but cannily also targeted those 'soft Remainers' who are now thinking that if Europe is going to make Brexit bloody difficult, that proves just why we need to get out quickly. Until now, some politicians have hoped that Leavers will feel 'buyer's remorse' as time goes on and the exit road gets bumpy. But it may well be that it's some Remainers who regret not having stuck two fingers up earlier. We're getting a second referendum alright, and it's not the one the Lib Dems hoped for.

And it was May's personal pitch that was even more striking than her pops at Johnny Foreigner. She said "every vote for me and my local candidates...every vote for me and my local team...every vote for me..." would strengthen her hand. For good measure, she said no fewer than four times "give me your backing".

Me, myself, I got the message. She's trying to put herself firmly on every ballot paper, not just to contrast with Jeremy Corbyn's leadership but to distance herself from the Tory brand she knows is still too toxic for many Labour voters. The strategy may be to play hardball on Brexit for Labour leavers, while using the manifesto to reassure everyone she's a centrist really.

And it may work. Our focus group in Slough last week showed Labour supporters flirting with their first ever switch, but only for 'Theresa May'. Anecdotally, that's confirmed elsewhere. One non-Tory London voter said yesterday that they wished they could vote for May "for President". Tim Farron's close encounter with a Leave voter Malcolm Baker in Oxfordshire yesterday ended with him declaring "I tell you what, I've always voted Labour, but I'll be voting for Theresa May!"

Way back in the Ealing Southall by-election in 2007, the Tory candidate's party was listed as 'David Cameron's Conservatives'. But his brand was nowhere near as strong as May's is today. And as PoliticsHome reported this week, some Tory candidates in this election have been given garden billboards that read "Standing with Theresa May" in big letters and 'Conservatives' in smaller print.

One northern Labour MP whose seat is being targeted as never before told me that so far their vote was holding up. Yet they had this key proviso: "People wont vote for the Tories, but they may vote for 'Mrs May's Conservatives'. It's that simple."

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