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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.

CREDIT: CREATIVE COMMONS
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Prostate cancer research has had a £75m welcome boost. Now let’s treat another killer of men

Each week in the UK, 84 men kill themselves – three times the number of women.

The opening months of 2018 have seen a flurry of activity in men’s health. In February, figures were published showing that the number of male patients dying annually from prostate cancer – around 12,000 – has overtaken female deaths from breast cancer for the first time. Whether coincidence or not, this news was followed shortly by two celebrities going public with their personal diagnoses of prostate cancer – Stephen Fry, and former BBC Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull.

Fry and Turnbull used their profiles to urge other men to visit their doctors to get their PSA levels checked (a blood test that can be elevated in prostate cancer). Extrapolating from the numbers who subsequently came to ask me about getting screened, I would estimate that 300,000 GP consultations were generated nationwide on the back of the publicity.

Well-meaning as Fry’s and Turnbull’s interventions undoubtedly were, they won’t have made a jot of positive difference. In March, a large UK study confirmed findings from two previous trials: screening men by measuring PSA doesn’t actually result in any lives being saved, and exposes patients to harm by detecting many prostate cancers – which are often then treated aggressively – that would never have gone on to cause any symptoms.

This, then, is the backdrop for the recent declaration of “war on prostate cancer” by Theresa May. She announced £75m to fund research into developing an effective screening test and refining treatments. Leaving aside the headline-grabbing opportunism, the prospect of additional resources being dedicated to prostate cancer research is welcome.

One of the reasons breast cancer has dropped below prostate cancer in the mortality rankings is a huge investment in breast cancer research that has led to dramatic improvements in survival rates. This is an effect both of earlier detection through screening, and improved treatment outcomes. A similar effort directed towards prostate cancer will undoubtedly achieve similar results.

The reason breast cancer research has been far better resourced to date must be in part because the disease all too often affects women at a relatively young age – frequently when they have dependent children, and ought to have many decades of life to look forward to. So many family tragedies have been caused by breast malignancy. Prostate cancer, by contrast, while it does affect some men in midlife, is predominantly a disease of older age. We are more sanguine about a condition that typically comes at the end of a good innings. As such, prostate cancer research has struggled to achieve anything like the funding momentum that breast cancer research has enjoyed. May’s £75m will go some way to redressing the balance.

In March, another important men’s health campaign was launched: Project 84, commissioned by the charity Calm. Featuring 84 haunting life-size human sculptures by American artist Mark Jenkins, displayed on the rooftops of ITV’s London studios, the project aims to raise awareness of male suicide. Each week in the UK, 84 men kill themselves – three times the number of women. Suicide is the leading cause of male death under 45 – men who frequently have dependent children, and should have many decades of life to look forward to. So many family tragedies.

I well remember the stigma around cancer when I was growing up in the 1970s: people hardly dared breathe the word lest they became in some way tainted. Now we go on fun runs and wear pink ribbons to help beat the disease. We need a similar shift in attitudes to mental health, so that it becomes something people are comfortable talking about. This is gradually happening, particularly among women. But we could do with May declaring war on male suicide, and funding research into the reasons why so many men kill themselves, and why they don’t seem to access help that might just save their lives. 

Phil Whitaker’s sixth novel, “You”, is published by Salt

This article first appeared in the 18 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Enoch Powell’s revenge