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In recent days the following stories have all appeared in the press: that the Conservatives have hit 50 per cent in the polls; predictions of a 200-seat majority for Theresa May; that the Tories may be the largest party in Wales and take up to 12 seats off the SNP; and that UKIP is a busted flush.

Given that, it’s not hard to see why Party strategists might be tempted to get complacent. But it would be very foolish to do so – for beneath the good headlines the Conservatives face serious challenges – not least of which is that, due to the Boundaries Commission proposals not yet being in law, the Conservative Party starts this campaign with a 20 seat disadvantage.

As for the polls, as the campaign develops our buoyant scores will drift downwards from time to time – and seem to have done so in recent days – with increases in Labour’s share of the vote allowing the Opposition to claim that they have got momentum. At some point the Conservative Party will have some bad news, most likely when the decision is announced about whether there will be prosecutions regarding election expenses, regardless of what the decision is.

The Labour Party also has a financial war chest greater than the maximum amount it will be allowed to spend, due to a vast increase in membership subscriptions, so in this general election it is unlikely to be outspent by the Conservatives, unlike in the last election.

Membership could be a serious handicap. Just consider the numbers for the main parties contesting this election:

  • Labour: 520,000
  • Liberal Democrats: 100,000
  • Scottish Nationalists: 120,000
  • Conservatives: 150,000?

With activists of about 10 per cent of membership, Labour is the only Party capable of mounting a ground campaign across the nation. But our other two opponents don’t have to: the Liberal Democrats will concentrate their forces on the seats they lost in the last election, and the Scottish Nationalists only fight the 59 seats in Scotland.

The Conservative Party does not have sufficient members to fight a ground campaign across the United Kingdom. To compete at the same level as the Scottish Nationalists do in Scotland, but on a national basis, the Conservatives would need a million members.

So how do the Conservative overcome this discrepancy? In the last General Election they targeted the 40 most marginal seats held by the opposition (mainly Liberal Democrat seats) and supported the 40 most vulnerable seats held by the Conservatives. The problem in this election is that not only do we have multi-party politics but tactical voting alliances intervening in the constituencies.

I do not need to remind you that in addition to the parties already mentioned we have UKIP, Plaid Cymru, the Green Party, plus the Democratic Unionists and sundry other parties in Northern Ireland, whilst organisations such as Gina Miller’s Anti-Brexit group ‘Best for Britain’ and Open Britain will also be intervening.

Given this confused picture, what and where are the marginal seats? Some “guess work” will be required to decide where to put our resources – but it is “guess work” and it could go horribly wrong.

The chickens are coming home to roost for the Conservative Party. For too long the membership has been neglected, and to prevent such a situation like this happening again radical action will need to be taken after the general election. More effort will be required in the use of social media and modern electioneering technology, but that can only do so much at the crunch to get out the vote on election day.

I have been a member of the Conservative Party for over fifty years, and I do not recall during that time a more important general election than this. The only Party with the ability and the power to take to take us through the Brexit negotiations is the Conservative Party and we have been fortunate at this critical time to have in Theresa May, as our Prime Minister, someone capable of doing it.

This election is about taking back our sovereignty, regaining the ability for our Parliament to decide our laws and thus the right of the British people to elect – and eject – those who rule over them. It’s about bringing the interpretation of those laws back to our own judiciary, schooled in the British legal tradition, and restoring our ability to conclude treaties and trade with the world.

Compared to the usual election fare these are existential questions, and the Conservative Party cannot and must not lose this election by default.  Every member must stretch themselves to the maximum to overcome the obstacles in our way.

But before that can happen we need to recognise that these obstacles exist, and high poll numbers alone won’t lift us over them.

59 comments for: John Strafford: Conservatives must not let the polls lull them into complacency

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