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Sunak’s shrinking campaign: from the door of No 10 to doorsteps in his constituency…

Your weekly dose of gossip from the campaign trail.

By Kevin Maguire

Tory strategists sneakily inserting campaign days in Richmond and Northallerton into Rishi Sunak’s diary so he avoids becoming the first prime minister in history to lose his seat underlines the collapse of support in rural once-blue bastions. Add to the mix a backlash over abandoning them on the beaches at the D-Day commemoration in a constituency that is home to the British Army’s Catterick Garrison and a 27,210 majority in 2019 no longer looks totally impregnable. The Liberal Democrats recognise the Conservative panic signs. In 2017 they added extra time in then-leader Tim Farron’s Westmorland and Lonsdale patch after realising he was in danger of defeat. Farron scraped home by 777 votes. Sunak might settle for a similar result.

What a bold pledge to clean up politics from “Jim the washing machine salesman”. Shamed ex-Labour minister Keith Vaz, handed a six-month Commons suspension for offering to buy drugs for sex workers then failing to cooperate with an inquiry, is standing for his One Leicester party. Leaflets promising to “fix our broken politics” suggest zero self-awareness.

Jeremy Corbyn was a regular speaker and Keir Starmer will be absent once again from a Durham Miners’ Gala which was once a regular fixture for Labour leaders and prime ministers. Tony Blair swerved invitations, as did Gordon Brown, both never addressing the largest working-class rally in the country. Their successor is now considered unlikely to ever mount the stage at the brass bands-and-banners masses. A Starmtrooper insisted the new PM would be too busy. The betrayal vibe of the Big Meeting may be another factor.

Candidates love posting photographs on Twitter/X of small posses of canvassers to boast they’re knocking for victory on 4 July. One Conservative cabinet minister, however, confided he isn’t, because electors would realise that only family and friends are canvassing for him. The local Conservative association’s members are on strike over Sunak’s woeful performances, he wailed. Downing leaflets, unlike tools, requires no secret postal ballot.

Every silver lining has a cloud. Starmer wants as big a majority as possible, but strategists fret winning seats never considered targets in the Home Counties could create tensions similar to the Blue Wall/Red Wall rifts that plagued the Tories following Boris Johnson’s 2019 triumph. Starmer posing as an Imby (in my backyard) who would scrap planning laws to build houses and electricity pylons across south-east England was simple when most of these constituencies were Tory. Paint them red, and Labour’s Nimby benches would be packed.  

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[See also: Tories are canvassing strenuously – for the Conservative leadership election]

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This article appears in the 26 Jun 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Lammy Doctrine