David Cameron at the Conservative conference in Manchester last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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How a large deficit benefits the Tories

The greater the challenge of borrowing appears, the more likely voters are to stick with the Tories.

Today's borrowing figures are a reminder of how poor the state of the public finances remains. The deficit for February stood at £9.3bn, £100m higher than in the same month last year. Borrowing for the year to date is £99.3bn and is forecast by the OBR to reach £108bn, £48bn higher than the figure planned by George Osborne in 2010. The man who promised to eliminate the structural deficit this year will now not do so until at least 2018.

Given all of this, one might expect the Conservatives to be suffering from Osborne's failure, but the reverse is likely be the case. The larger the deficit is, the easier it is for the Tories to continue to present it as the defining economic issue and to argue that it's not safe to hand the keys back to Labour. Despite Osborne repeatedly missing his borrowing targets (with the government forecast to borrow £190bn more than planned in 2010), the polls show that the Tories still enjoy a large lead in this area. The continuing black hole also means that Osborne and Cameron can run a classic 1992-style Conservative election campaign challenging Labour to say what taxes they would raise to plug the gap. Had the deficit already been eliminated, debate would likely have turned to how to spend the proceeds of growth, territory where Labour is traditionally strongest.

For Ed Miliband, the priority is to ensure that the cost of living (an area where Labour leads the Tories) remains the defining issue. But as Osborne desperately tries to overturn the opposition's stubborn poll lead, the deficit remains one of his most valuable weapons.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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