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Why Tory MPs believe they may not win a general election landslide

The chance of Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister may appear too small for a "fear factor" to aid the Conservatives.  

Theresa May is burdened by greater election expectations than any post-war prime minister. Three polls have given the Conservatives an elephantine 21-point lead - their largest in government since 1983 and enough for a majority of 150 seats. The Sun's frontpage predicts that the PM will simply "kill off Labour". 

May will likely never have better circumstances in which to call an election. Labour is irretrievably divided and Jeremy Corbyn's personal ratings are even worse than those of his party. For most in Westminster, the only question is how large the Conservatives' majority will be. 

But precisely for these reasons, some Tory MPs fear they will undershoot expectations. Though CCHQ will unleash the mother of all dossiers against Corbyn, the "risk" of him beoming PM appeared "too small," an MP told me, for the attacks to resonate. In 2015, it was voters' sincere fear that Ed Miliband would win (and do a deal with the SNP) that carried the Tories to a majority. In 2017, the common belief that Corbyn cannot win may limit the Conservatives' gains. "We won't get close to a majority of 100," an MP told me earlier. "It'll be much, much less."

Labour MPs hope to survive by running on their local reputations and record. Some will produce their own manifestos, just as Corbyn and John McDonnell did in their backbench days. As one Labour MP, who predicted an early election, recently told me: "People will follow the Lib Dem playbook, treat the party as a franchise and run ultra-local campaign". Leaflets will be free of references to Corbyn and national policy. “You’ve got to cut the mother ship adrift and row yourself to safety. It's every man for himself now."

Some Conservatives believe that such efforts could help Labour to hold onto more seats than expected (as it did in 2010). The unreformed constituency boundaries, dating back to 2005, will also aid Corbyn's party.

The Tories are further troubled by the prospect of Lib Dem gains. As I recently revealed, a Conservative poll by Lynton Crosby showed the party would lose most of the 27 seats it won from Tim Farron's party in 2015. MPs from Devon and Cornwall pleaded with May not to go the country. There is no turning back now. But remarkable as it may seem, a majority below 100 will be deemed a failure by some. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Nicola Sturgeon is betting on Brexit becoming real before autumn 2018

Second independence referendum plans have been delayed but not ruled out.

Three months after announcing plans for a second independence referendum, and 19 days after losing a third of her Scottish National Party MPs, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon booted the prospect of a second independence referendum into the heather. 

In a statement at Holyrood, Sturgeon said she felt her responsibility as First Minister “is to build as much unity and consensus as possible” and that she had consulted “a broad spectrum of voices” on independence.

She said she had noted a “commonality” among the views of the majority, who were neither strongly pro or anti-independence, but “worry about the uncertainty of Brexit and worry about the clarity of what it means”. Some “just want a break from making political decisions”.

This, she said had led her to the conclusion that there should be a referendum reset. Nevertheless: "It remains my view and the position of this government that at the end of this Brexit process the Scottish people should have a choice about the future of our country." 

This "choice", she suggested, was likely to be in autumn 2018 – the same time floated by SNP insiders before the initial announcement was made. 

The Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie responded: “The First Minister wishes to call a referendum at a time of her choosing. So absolutely nothing has changed." In fact, there is significance in the fact Sturgeon will no longer be pursuing the legislative process needed for a second referendum. Unlike Theresa May, say, she has not committed herself to a seemingly irreversable process.

Sturgeon’s demand for a second independence referendum was said to be partly the result of pressure from the more indy-happy wing of the party, including former First Minister Alex Salmond. The First Minister herself, whose constituency is in the former Labour stronghold of Glasgow, has been more cautious, and is keenly aware that the party can lose if it appears to be taking the electorate for granted. 

In her speech, she pledged to “put our shoulder to the wheel” in Brexit talks, and improve education and the NHS. Yet she could have ruled out a referendum altogether, and she did not. 

Sturgeon has framed this as a “choice” that is reasonable, given the uncertainties of Brexit. Yet as many of Scotland’s new Labour MPs can testify, opposition to independence on the doorstep is just as likely to come from a desire to concentrate on public services and strengthening a local community as it is attachment to a more abstract union. The SNP has now been in power for 10 years, and the fact it suffered losses in the 2017 general election reflects the perception that it is the party not only for independence, but also the party of government.

For all her talk of remaining in the single market, Sturgeon will be aware that it will be the bread-and-butter consequences of Brexit, like rising prices, and money redirected towards Northern Ireland, that will resonate on the doorstep. She will also be aware that roughly a third of SNP voters opted for Brexit

The general election result suggests discontent over local or devolved issues is currently overriding constitutional matters, whether UK-wide or across the EU. Now Brexit talks with a Tory-DUP government have started, this may change. But if it does not, Sturgeon will be heading for a collision with voter choice in the autumn of 2018. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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