The image of strength and stability the Tories have projected around Theresa May has hit home with the electorate. Now the prime minister is using that to cement her mandate for Brexit
On a damp, grey Friday afternoon in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, there are few visible signs that a general election is just four weeks away – an election that could redraw the political map of the area. This former cotton town and surrounding region – the birthplace of Labour and an impregnable fortress for the party over decades – is now 14th on the Tory target list for 8 June. Half an hour away is Halifax, which is even more vulnerable to a Tory takeover. Other local Labour seats, such as Batley and Spen, stand on the brink. The Conservatives, led by Theresa May, are staking their claim to be the party of working people and want to crush Labour in these parts, as Ukip crumbles. If these seats and others nearby go blue so, in all probability, will large parts of the north of England.
Look hard and you can spot small Labour posters high on lamp-posts, urging people to vote for the local Labour candidate, Paula Sherriff. But, oddly, there is no Tory propaganda anywhere and no one seems to know the Conservative candidate’s name.
“She is a young one, that is all I know. People haven’t heard of her yet,” says Paul Ross, who runs a jeans store, and says he’ll be voting Theresa May because she is a strong leader and Jeremy Corbyn lives in “fantasy land”.
In the covered market nearby, Chris McClaughlin, a 73-year-old retired HGV driver, is unsure where he will put his cross. He says, initially, that he will opt for Labour because he always has – but then he opens up about May and it is clear he is warming to her by the day. “I think she’s a cracking lass, I do,” he says. “She talks to you straight. I do like her. I don’t know which way I’ll vote. I could vote for May.”
His friend, Garry Wilkinson, who owns a sweet store on the market, says he voted for Labour under Harold Wilson and Tony Blair. “But they both let me down so I won’t do that again,” he laughs. He is not aware who the local Tory candidate is. But he is impressed by the prime minister. “May: she is a strong woman and she will lead a strong government. She will negotiate a good deal on Brexit.”