Theresa May speaks to supporters at a community centre in Bridgend, Wales. Conservative strategists are warning that the current crop of opinion polls suggesting Theresa May will cruise to victory in June’s general election could dissuade voters from turning out to vote for the party.
The belief is that a landslide election narrative may also encourage others to back Labour and other opposition parties simply in an attempt to minimise the scale of the anticipated majority, prompting the prime minister to warn about the issue on Tuesday.
On a campaign visit to Wales, May said: Remember, the opinion polls were wrong in the 2015 general election, they were wrong in the referendum, and Jeremy Corbyn himself has said that he was a 200-1 outsider for the Labour leadership in 2015 and look where that got him, she told Tory activists at a community centre in Bridgend.
A Conservative source called it a “real concern” because of the “potential impact on voter choice”. Another said the idea of a 100-plus majority was an exaggeration, although they did confirm that internal polling suggested the Conservatives believed they could be dozens of seats ahead after the 8 June vote.
At the last election, a widespread expectation that there would be a hung parliament and a coalition government was successfully used by the Conservative party to win votes. David Cameron’s winning campaign relentlessly played on fears with English voters that the SNP would enter government with Labour.
However, despite May’s rhetoric, the Conservatives were confident enough to launch an assault on Labour in the party’s heartlands, starting with a visit by the prime minister to two marginal seats in Wales.
May travelled to the Labour-held seats of Newport East and Bridgend after a poll suggested Labour could no longer be the biggest party in Wales for the first time since 1922. Part of the Tory strategy is to win over voters who were once solidly Labour but have since flirted with Ukip and then backed Brexit in June’s referendum.
May told activists that she would stop ducking the issue of social care, said the Tories were the party of low taxes and claimed that deals done in the Welsh assembly backed up her much-repeated statement that Corbyn would only be prime minister if he was propped up by a coalition of chaos.
However, the prime minister would not commit to above-inflation increases in funding for the NHS after an additional £10bn funding stream, which critics say falls short of the full amount needed, has been delivered by 2020/21.
She said she would not comment on the manifesto, but insisted that the Tories had put more resources into the health service than Labour would have done.
If you want to see what Labour would do to NHS just look at the problems here in Wales, she added, echoing a common attack made by her predecessor David Cameron during the 2015 election campaign.
However, Labour hit back with shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, telling the Guardian: Yet again Theresa May has shown her utter disregard for the NHS. The truth is this Tory leader finds money for her pet projects and tax cuts for the privileged few but continues to underfund the NHS.
Stephen Doughty, MP for Cardiff South and Penarth, accused Cameron of being shameful for calling Offa’s Dyke a line between life and death. The reality is that thanks to Welsh Labour we haven’t had a doctors’ strike, we have rejected privatisation, we have kept free prescriptions, and we are building new hospitals and health facilities across Wales and investing in social care, he said.
Labour’s message to voters in Wales is of a Tory approach to the NHS in England that he said had been a disaster, Doughty stressed. The issue is likely to be at the heart of a fierce fight between the two biggest parties in Wales after the nation’s Labour leader Carwyn Jones told the Guardian that Corbyn had work to do to show voters he could be prime minister.
The Tories also faced a suggestion by Sky News that foreign secretary Boris Johnson was being forced to play a diminished role in the election campaign. The Conservatives said the suggestion was nonsense and insisted that Johnson would be “part of the core campaign team” although he has not yet undertaken any high-profile campaign events.
However, the challenge for May was apparent in Bridgend where many voters scoffed at the idea of voting Tory. I wouldn’t vote Conservative unless I won the lottery, said Mandy, 58, saying her family had always backed Labour.
Alan Davies, 50, said he worked in the NHS and wouldn’t vote Tory in a million years. He claimed that Conservatives only looked after themselves. No, no, no, added Helen Morgan, 50. She said she had backed Brexit and wanted out of the EU but would always vote Labour.
But others were more open to shifting their vote. John, 76, said the Labour party had been in power in Wales for too long and had gone stale. Ian Hedley, a former RAF serviceman, said he believed Corbyn would lose the election on defence issues, with Mike Punter, 38, agreeing. I’ve voted Labour before but not this time.
Some said they thought May could be trusted on Brexit. One 27-year-old, Sascha Lopez, is standing to becoming a Tory councillor next week. He claimed that in the Valleys which he described as a Labour stronghold for decades the response was improving, particularly after the vote for Brexit.
A lot of the Ukip vote was picked up from Labour but fact that Ukip has subsided has allowed those people to vote Conservative and reduced their previous ties to Labour, he said, claiming voters – particularly women – liked May.
Andrew RT Davies, the Conservative leader in Wales, said he remembered 1997 when his party didn’t have a single seat in Wales, but had slowly built up since then to 11 today. He said: Our aim is to be competitive in all 40 seats.