It was supposed to be a coronation for Queen Theresa … but that was back in April. Now, as the Tory leader found on the campaign trail in Yorkshire, nothing can be taken for granted.
In an attempt to show that she is still on course to win large numbers of seats from Labour in the north of England, Theresa May arrived in her Tory battlebus at an industrial park in South Kirkby, near Pontefract, last Thursday afternoon. This part of West Yorkshire is regarded as rock-solid Labour territory. A few miles down the road is Frickley and South Elmsall colliery, closed under a Conservative government in 1992. The bitterness lingers.
At the 2015 general election Labour won the Hemsworth constituency by a country mile. The message from May’s visit was supposed to encapsulate a sense of confidence and ambition that, from now on, the Tories represent the best future for these parts.
As the prime minister emerged from the bus which bears her name in giant letters, and was greeted by staff from a kitchen furniture factory called Ultima, a crowd outside its gates struck up an angry chorus just a few yards away. “Let’s make June the end of May!” they shouted. Labour banners were held aloft. It was not exactly the picture opportunity that the dozen or so Tory staff and spin doctors who had travelled north with the prime minister had wanted to create. Journalists and TV cameramen were ushered quickly inside.
But then nothing much has gone according to plan for Team May in the past fortnight. A campaign that started back in April with huge confidence – focused on the need for May’s strong leadership as the country approached Brexit negotiations – looked like it could turn into a coronation. The main questions were how big the Tory landslide, and the resulting humiliation for the hapless Jeremy Corbyn, would be. Then a policy U-turn on social care set in train a shift in the polls in favour of Labour, which has outperformed expectations, and the whole story has changed.