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28 April 2015updated 29 Apr 2015 10:27am

Have the Tories given up the fight in their number one target seat?

Chris Grayling appeared to concede defeat in Hampstead & Kilburn, where the Labour majority is just 42. But the reality is less good for Labour.

By Stephen Bush

Have the Tories given up in their number one target seat, Hampstead & Kilburn? The Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, acting as the star turn in lieu of Grant Shapps at a Q&A, was asked by activists why there hadn’t been more leaflets and billboards in there. Grayling responded:

The billboards are in marginal seats. I can tell you about that in our 40-40 campaign, 40 seats we are seeking to gain and 40 seats we are seeking to keep hold of, of which Hendon is one, there has been a huge amount of direct marketing. Around the country, I have seen a lot of this going on. Probably more material is going out through a huge amount of direct marketing, through direct mail, Facebook and direct communications, and we are putting more material through doors than ever before.”

The remarks are particularly embarrassing as the seat has the smallest majority of any Labour seat – the Tories are just 42 votes behind. Have the Conservatives given up on taking it?

Although Labour are crowing in public about Grayling’s embarrassment, privately, party insiders admit that the race in Hampstead & Kilburn is closer than they’d like, forcing them to spend time holding on to that seat and not in the nearby marginal of Hornsey & Wood Green – which is also looking tighter than previously expected.

As for the Tories, they are still hopeful of taking a seat that they are working hard, with one senior Conservative describing it as “their best prospect” in the capital (they rank Hampstead & Kilburn alongside Southampton Itchen, Wirral South and Harrow West as their best hopes of taking seats from Labour). 

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The real significance of Hampstead & Kilburn is that it’s a seat that, according to Lord Ashcroft’s polling, ought to be the easiest of holds for Labour. That neither side is feeling comfortable there suggests that much of the commentary about the election is not as well-founded – or, perhaps, as good for Labour – as we might wish. 

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