EVERY election campaign has a wobble.
But the Tories have broken new ground in managing to wobble before they had even launched their campaign.
They had an awful start to this week with Jacob Rees-Mogg making stupid and insensitive comments about the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the Welsh Secretary, Alun Cairns, having to resign over his former aide’s role in the collapse of a rape trial.
But since their launch on Wednesday night, the Tories have regained their balance and got back to their core — and potent — message of “Get Brexit Done with Boris or get two referendums with Corbyn”.
One key Tory says that the mistakes early in the week were not a result of strategy but the fact “we can’t control individual acts of idiocy”.
There was, though, something more going on here. The Tories had an oddly sluggish start to the campaign.
In the days between parliament voting for an election and their own launch, they let Labour wrest the initiative away from them.
As one leading Cabinet minister puts it: “We’ve got a really good, clear song to sing. We simply forgot to sing it as we cleared up Government business.”
I understand that the Tories’ own polling still shows them on course to win the election and return with a working majority.
But, in the assessment of one of Boris’s Cabinet allies, this contest is “the most complicated election we have had, with two minor parties that can take from both major parties”.
This dynamic means that this election will be more unpredictable than usual. There won’t be a straight- forward national swing, rather a series of regional contests.
After the first few days of the campaign there is no uniform mood among Tory candidates. I’m told the regional breakdown is “Midlands and North pretty chipper, Scots more bullish than expected, Welsh expecting good gains. It is the southern Lib Dem vote that is nervous.”
The other thing making the Tories fret is the stakes in this election.
One Cabinet minister warns that “it is not just that the gradient on the road to victory is steep, it is that the sides are so dangerous. It is not some Blairite on the other side.”
I am told that at the final political cabinet meeting of this parliament on Tuesday, “the whole of the Cabinet was slagging off the 2017 campaign.”
But realising what went wrong last time is not enough — the Tories have to produce a proper campaign this time round.
They have made some progress in persuading voters that this election is necessary. One senior Cabinet minister tells me we are “much further forward on persuading people of the need for an election than we were in 2017.”
Encouragingly for them, the missed October 31 Brexit deadline is not becoming an issue either. They cannot, though, afford more gaffes and distraction. They have a path to a majority but very little room for error.
Austin’s powers put Tom to shame
TOM WATSON played a key role in persuading Labour MPs not to walk out of the party, to stay and resist the hard Left takeover.
But now he is walking away with the extremists still very much in charge.
It is hardly a profile in courage.
By contrast, Ian Austin – like Watson a tribally Labour figure from the old right of the party – has had the guts to say publicly that he does not think Corbyn is fit to be Prime Minister.
Fight Labour lies
THE Tories know that Labour is determined to keep claiming the NHS is going to be hit by a US/UK trade deal, despite the evidence.
In a sign the Tories understand how dangerous this attack is, I hear a special unit is being set up at campaign headquarters to rebut it.
Gaffes silence Mogg
“THE grey space has been closed” declares one of the Tories running their election campaign. They think that the party’s shambolic start to the campaign was, in part, down to confusion as to who was in charge – the government machine in No10 or the campaign machine at Tory HQ.
But with parliament dissolved, all the Conservative team are now in one place, which should lead to less slipping through the cracks. I am also told that Jacob Rees-Mogg will now be kept under wraps during the campaign.
One close ally of Boris Johnson fears that “Jacob will never shake this.”
A Cabinet minister tells me “without the Grenfell gaffe, he would have been part of the mix.” There is also concern about the fact the former Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns is still standing as a candidate – despite resigning from Cabinet.
I am told that Number 10 pressured him to resign on Tuesday night but he didn’t go until Wednesday, the day of the Tory launch.
One influential Tory tells me: “I don’t really see how Alun can be a candidate.”
Bullish BoJo is the key to victory
OR a few days at the start of this week, Boris Johnson took a low profile. The result: A torrid few days for the Tories with mistakes by Cabinet ministers and Labour seizing control of the news agenda.
The Tories are as dependent on Boris in this campaign as Spurs are on Harry Kane. Without him, they aren’t going to win anything. As one leading Cabinet minister puts it: “He’s got to be the rainmaker. He’s got to make the weather.”
In this election, the Tories want to keep the focus on Brexit and the economy. Their hope is that Boris’s campaigning skills and ability to turn a phrase can keep their repetitive messages fresh and at the top of the news bulletins.
With the Tories so dependent on Boris, his own form matters a lot. Leading Tories are relieved that Carrie Symonds, his partner, is taking time off from her job working for an environmental NGO so she can campaign for the Tories.
I am told that when she went away on a work trip towards the end of last month, Boris’s mood dropped so precipitously that it worried the No 10 political team.
One senior Cabinet minister tells me: “The PM has got to do the heavy lifting on this campaign.”
Unlike Theresa May, Boris enjoys being out on the stump. He relishes being in the spotlight and believes he is a winner. As he put it to me during the Tory leadership race, his “true selling point” is his ability to win elections.
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He is pleased to be out of the Commons and on the trail. As one of those close to him puts it: “He likes campaigning more than Parliament.”
The Tories also want a Boris Johnson/Jeremy Corbyn contrast, which is why they are so keen on head-to-head TV debates between the pair.
In an attempt to downplay the importance of the other leaders’ debates, involving all seven parties, the Tories are considering sending a junior Cabinet minister rather than a senior figure such as Chancellor Sajid Javid.
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