Theresa May’s personal popularity with the voters is forming a centrepiece of the Tory general election campaign as the party downgrades its own name and image on leaflets, adverts and even candidates’ descriptions.
A string of newspaper adverts have appeared in key marginal seats in recent days with the words ‘Theresa May’ given the most prominence and ‘Conservative’ relegated to the small print.
The ‘Presidential’-style tactic - unleashed by campaigns guru Sir Lynton Crosby in recent days - is part of the party’s overall move to capitalise on the Prime Minister’s approval ratings, while playing down the Tory brand in target constituencies held for years by Labour MPs.
Tory candidates are also now describing themselves on Twitter and Facebook as ‘Theresa May’s local candidate’ rather than using the word ‘Conservative’. Billboards feature the phrase ‘Standing With Theresa May’ prominently too.
In an audacious attempt to win a landslide victory, long-held Labour areas such as Darlington, Sedgefield, Stockport, Rhyl and Mansfield have been flooded with ‘wrap-around’ Conservative adverts on local newspapers.
Marginal seats have been targeted too, with marginal seats as far apart as Bury and Chorley in Lancashire, Scunthorpe in Yorkshire, Exeter in Devon and Hove in Sussex seeing the wrap-around.
But the four-page advert declares ‘Theresa May for Britain’, juxtaposes her name with that of Jeremy Corbyn and features ‘An Important Message From Theresa May’.
It only mentions the word ‘Conservatives’ once, buried at the bottom of the back page.
Andrew Gwynne, Labour’s Elections and Campaigns Co-ordinator, told HuffPost UK: “That the Tories have reduced themselves to hiding behind Theresa May’s empty slogans, is a remarkable attempt to distance themselves from their own toxic brand.
“Their continued efforts to peddle the same empty words, shows just how desperate they are to distract from their record of failure and from the fact they have no plan for working people.
“Working people deserve better than Tory failure, only a Labour Government will stand up for the many, not just a privileged few.”
When the Prime Minister called the election last month, she repeatedly used the phrase “Every vote for the Conservatives..”.
“Every vote for the Conservatives will make it harder for opposition politicians who want to stop me from getting the job done.
Every vote for the Conservatives will make me stronger when I negotiate for Britain with the prime ministers, presidents and chancellors of the European Union.
Every vote for the Conservatives will mean we can stick to our plan for a stronger Britain and take the right long-term decisions for a more secure future.”
But in her Downing Street speech this week, clearly responding to focus group testing of her message, she instead used the new phraseology of “every vote for me and my local candidates” and “every vote for me and my local team”.
“Every vote for me and my local candidates in this election will be a vote to demonstrate that unity of purpose.
Every vote for me and my local team will strengthen my hand when I negotiate for Britain in Europe.
Every vote for me will mean we can get on with delivering my plan for a stronger Britain.”
It has also emerged in recent days that the Tories have also sent out garden billboard posters which force local candidates to include the PM’s name on them.
‘Standing with Theresa May’ appears below the candidate’s name, while the word ‘Conservatives’ appears in smaller print at the bottom.
Claire-Louise Leyland, who is fighting to unseat Labour in the key Hampstead and Kilburn marginal for the Tories, has referred to herself on Facebook as “Theresa May’s local candidate”.
Tory insiders point out that the PM’s personal pitch to voters - as the ‘strong and stable’ leader the country needs to deliver Brexit - has worked so far and is not likely to change during the rest of the campaign.
May used a speech in a Labour heartland of Leeds a week ago to plead with the party’s voters to “lend me your vote” in the election, an admission that she wanted a one-off expression of support for her premiership in the June 8 poll.
Conservatives say that in contrast many Labour MPs are so worried about Jeremy Corbyn’s negative image that he has been ‘airbrushed’ off their leaflets and other campaign material.
Focus groups held by HuffPost UK-Edelman during the election have revealed that Labour voters, particularly those who voted Leave in the EU referendum, are attracted to May’s leadership style.
The cost of the Tory wrap-around adverts may also come under Labour scrutiny, with the national spending and local spending having to be separated in election returns.