Patrick McLoughlin didn’t want to be drawn by Andrew Marr on the Conservative Party’s targeting plans this morning. That’s wise, but the Sunday papers have a series of reports (in the Sun on Sunday, Sunday Telegraph, Sunday Times and Observer) on how a combination of Copeland and the poll lead has turned Tory thoughts to possible gains at the next election.
As John Curtice writes in the Mail on Sunday, replicating the swing nationally in Copeland would hand dozens of Labour seats to May. In Downing Street and in CCHQ the search is on for the constituencies that would be most vulnerable to well-targeted campaigns, with the intention of starting the work now – 70 is the number mentioned in this morning’s coverage.
Eagle-eyed readers of ConservativeHome will notice that this isn’t the first time that figure has been mentioned. Back in December, Anand Menon reported on this site that the Conservative Party was hiring campaign managers in a range of traditionally Labour-dominated areas covering, in total, 70 seats. Some of those are well beyond any swing short of a cataclysmic Labour collapse, but plenty of others look viable in a Copeland scenario.
One extra area has now been added to that list of new campaign manager beats – Cumbria. Shortly before the Copeland by-election, Cumbria’s Conservative Party members voted to merge to form a Multi-Constituency Association. Their reward, offered before the ballot by CCHQ, is a dedicated campaign manager paid for by the central party. Applications are open until Wednesday 1st March, and the job advert is here, should any readers want to apply.
I’d imagine that John Woodcock, the Labour MP who holds Barrow in Furness with a majority of 795, might be feeling a little nervous at the moment. And Sue Hayman, who holds Workington on a 12.2 per cent majority, would fall to a repeat of the Copeland swing – something not impossible if third-placed UKIP were to be squeezed.