In 2015, as the polls pointed to a hung parliament, journalists were baffled by David Cameron’s repeated visits to “safe” Liberal Democrat seats. What, some asked, was the Conservative leader doing in David Laws’s patch? (Where the Lib Dems had a majority of 13,036.) Why wasn’t Cameron focusing on marginal battles? On election day all became clear as Laws’s seat and 26 others turned blue. Private Conservative polling, which had long shown such constituencies vulnerable, proved a better guide to the result than public surveys.
This time round, though polls suggest the Conservative lead may have shrunk to just one point, Theresa May’s recent visits show the Tories remain confident of victory. In the last week, the Prime Minister has visited a slew of safe Labour seats: Hemsworth (Labour majority: 12,078), Don Valley (8,885), Penistone and Stockbridge (6,723) and Bradford South (6,450). This is not the itinerary of a leader fearing defeat or a hung parliament.
Jim Messina, the former Obama strategist, who foresaw the Tories’ triumph in 2015, has publicly ridiculed YouGov’s projection of a hung parliament. Conservative candidates similarly believe that their poll lead is closer to the 11 points suggested by ICM than the one point suggested by Survation.
Few shadow cabinet ministers, including some Corbyn allies, believe YouGov’s projection of a hung parliament. As one recently told me: “It feels like we’re going backwards, the Tories are going to gain seats from us and, other than one or two, I can’t see which we gain,” a shadow cabinet minister told me. He predicted a Conservative majority of 60-plus and doubted that Labour would retain at least 200 MPs. Candidates believe the party will outstrip Ed Miliband’s 30.4 per cent vote share, and potentially even Tony Blair’s 2005 share of 35.2 per cent, and yet still lose seats. Like Hillary Clinton in 2016, Labour risks piling up wasted votes in big cities and failing to win small towns.
In 2015, the mood on the ground was a better guide to the eventual result than the polls. One cannot know whether that will be the case again (much hinges on youth turnout) but the divergence is marked.