The polls are meaningless. That is the view of Chris Pearson, Conservative candidate in Halifax, and having spoken yesterday to a substantial number of voters in the town, I have to say I agree with him.
Halifax is where Theresa May launched her election manifesto, what seems like rather a long time ago now, though it was only 19 days, and here the tide still seems to be running quite clearly in the Conservatives’ favour.
Holly Lynch held the seat for Labour by 428 votes in 2015. “We need 216 Labour voters to switch,” Pearson observed – provided the Conservative vote holds up, and the party attracts half the voters who desert UKIP, which got 5,621 votes.
Pearson insisted he is not complacent, and is taking nothing for granted. Although the campaign has been “really positive”, he thinks the result will be close, and heavily influenced by local factors. The only national poll he endorses is a mock one which shows the Conservatives getting between 0 and 650 seats.
But some of his assumptions seem a bit on the cautious side. For in Halifax Borough Market, a covered area opened by the Duke and Duchess of York in 1896 and containing a profusion of small stalls selling everything from butchers’ meat to balls of wool, a substantial number of people said they will be switching from Labour to the Conservatives, and no one appeared to contemplate switching in the opposite direction.
At Coletta’s Café, where I fortified myself with pie, chips and peas, an old age pensioner with an immensely loud voice, sitting with three other retired women full of Yorkshire vigour, reminded me that Labour can still count on a hard core of diehard loyalists.
She began by declaring, with reference to the Prime Minister, “The sooner they get that little ******** out the better. She’s a warmonger. How many more terrorists are going to get through? She wants to go and see the victims and see how they feel. Do you like Piers Morgan?”
I confessed to being not very keen on Piers Morgan, whose show she had watched that morning.
“Why don’t you like him?” she demanded. “Because he says what he thinks. They want to put Piers Morgan in. He’d **** the ******s up.”
“Theresa May never even touched Halifax,” a second woman said. “She just went to Dean Clough Mills [for the manifesto launch].”
“She went in a car with blacked out windows,” the third woman claimed.
“See what you’ve started,” the fourth woman said.
“You’re taking your life in your hands, coming in here,” the second woman joked.
“Did you like Cameron and all, leaving his kids in the pub?” the first woman asked. “Posh ****ing silver spoon kid.”
“A bit of entertainment,” the woman who runs Coletta’s explained, perhaps worried that I could not stand this onslaught.
The conversation grew so fast and furious that I could not take it all down. “He can’t do shorthand,” the first woman said in a triumphant tone. “How long have you been a journalist? I was in a fight once. I got fined, the bastards [peels of laughter from everyone].”
It emerged that she is called Sheila Mellor, “as in David Mellor the politician that had that woman sucking his toes. My husband was called David Mellor, but it wasn’t him.”
Her talk darted about all over the place: “I think now with the terrorism she’s losing. Everybody’s losing faith. How many debates have they had and she’s never even turned up to one of them?”
The third woman said: “My dad always believed in Enoch Powell and what he said. The streets will run with blood.”
Mellor: “Piers Morgan said it this morning, you’ve got blood on your hands. And that other nonentity, she wouldn’t answer the question, the bottleless cow [a reference to Karen Bradley declining to answer questions about police numbers].”
When asked what they think of Jeremy Corbyn, the second woman said: “I think he’s all right. He’s a Labour man, give him a chance.”
Mellor said in a quieter voice: “He needs a backbone. Someone said it this morning, he won’t press that button.”
John Riley, a former foundry worker who is now a carer for his wife, said: “I’ve always voted Labour, but I’m voting Conservative this time. I think she’ll get us a better Brexit deal.”
He takes a low view of Corbyn: “Nobody has any faith in him now. Even his own party hasn’t got faith in him.”
But he likes Lynch, the local Labour MP: “I’d like her to keep on because she’s done well for Ovenden [part of Halifax]. If you were just voting for her, fair enough. She is good. She helped me when I had problems with my missus, getting a shower put in for her and everything.”
Joanne Walsh, who 15 years ago took over Coletta’s from an Italian family, said of the general election decision: “I’m swayed, myself. I normally vote Labour, but I don’t know. I’ve just no confidence in him [Corbyn] at all. But I don’t think Theresa May will get in anyway.”
It seems possible that some Labour supporters will vote Conservative under the impression that the Conservatives are not going to win.
Frank Nutter, who sells greeting cards but used to do fruit and veg and before that was a butcher, said: “Logically, there’s only one party you can vote for. You can’t vote Labour because they’re total idiots. The Lib Dems are in disarray. Who else is there?”
He has for most of his life voted Conservative, though also for parties such as UKIP.
A friend of his joked: “I just vote for common sense. Unfortunately where I live that’ll be a wasted vote.”
Another friend said: “My mother-in-law, who was the staunchest Labour woman, even she couldn’t vote Labour this time.”
A woman who runs a stall said: “I will be voting Conservative. I’ve been a red-hot socialist all my life, but I haven’t voted Labour since we went into Iraq. I do think all the trouble’s stemmed from that. I’ve worked in markets all my life, I’ve worked with Muslims, no bother.
“After Iraq, everything seemed to go pear-shaped. I stopped voting Labour then. I can tell you most of my customers think the same.
“And I don’t think they’re representing the working man at all, the Labour Party. I know a plasterer, he needs £11 an hour to pay his mortgage, but they’ll get a Polish plasterer who’ll work a lot cheaper, living together in one house and sending the money home.
“My father, who was a trade unionist, used to say, ‘Anyone could sort the country out if you didn’t want re-electing.'”
Many people want electing, or re-electing, on Thursday. If these conversations are any guide, those who stand under Corbyn’s leadership are likely to find he acts as a fatal drag on their chances.