As Mark Wallace reported yesterday, David Cameron and George Osborne began the New Year by campaigning in marginal opposition-held seats. The Prime Minister went to Halifax and St Austell & Newquay, and the Chancellor to Twickenham (up yours, Vince) and Telford.
The only one of the four not to be in Mark’s post listing the first tranche of 40/40 candidates was the last. Since Twickenham is rather a long shot next May, Osborne’s trip was thus what Tony Blair used to call an “eye-catching initiative”. So were the other three seats, at least on present polling. (Lord Ashcroft’s survey of red-blue marginals has not yet reached “the point in the Conservative-Labour battleground at which seats consistently stay blue and the damage stops”.)
However, Downing Street is not giving up on the prospect of the Conservatives winning more seats than in 2010. CCHQ is properly shy of advertising exactly which seats constitute its 40/40 – 40 attack seats and 40 defence. But it is discreetly targeting some attack seats outside the 20 most marginal that Labour and the Liberal Democrats hold.
This in itself isn’t new. It has been claimed previously that three highly marginal seats in the 20 most vulnerable Labour trance are not in the 40/40 – Southampton Itchen, Great Grimsby and Birmingham Edbgaston. However, there were always bound to be changes to the seats targeted as the polling, both public and private, changes. And there have been.
Candidates in a few opposition-held seats not previously on CCHQ’s target list have been called in by Lynton Crosby during the last few months, and quietly been promised more money and resources. The explanation doubtless lies partly in the impact of UKIP and the smaller parties – though there is still no reliable evidence that UKIP is taking more support from Labour than the Conservatives across the country as a whole.
Increased membership, Team 2015, a consistent message – as we have written before, CCHQ’s machine isn’t at all in bad shape. The fly in the ointment remains VoteSource, viewed by many activists as no more reliable than Merlin. (I gather that its unreliability has been raised twice at the Board, to the discomfort of Lord Feldman.) CCHQ will doubtless say that all will be fine and dandy when its functionality is complete. Perhaps this is right. Still, in the immortal words of Mandy Rice-Davies…