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Column: Leafleting, manifesto prep and a BBC debate: the final campaign push

Like it or not, the six-week election campaign is finally drawing to a close. Photo: PA
Like it or not, the six-week election campaign is finally drawing to a close. Photo: PA

From Rishi Sunak standing outside No10, drenched in the pouring rain, through an unseasonably cold June, to the current blazing sunshine, the last six weeks have seemed to encompass all weathers and seasons.

But like it or not, the six-week election campaign is finally drawing to a close. Come the early hours of July 5, barring an unfathomably vast polling error, we’re likely to have a new government and the first Labour Prime Minister since 2010.

However, before tired canvassers can hang up their worn-out shoes, there are still nine full days to go – and all parties will be driving their message hard in the crucial final phase.

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Tactically, Labour and the Conservatives are taking a very different approach to the recent avalanche of MRP polls, which suggest a solid majority for Keir Starmer, and even hint at a Conservative wipeout on the scale of Canada in 1993.

Tory cabinet ministers are eager to warn of the risk posed by a Labour supermajority. The term itself doesn’t apply in the UK – or mean anything constitutionally – beyond a very, very large majority of MPs in Parliament.

But for Labour, it’s the opposite. That risk is of complacency creeping in, and potential voters, feeling safe in their belief it’s a done deal, staying home.

Campaign chief Pat McFadden, the BBC reports, is issuing warnings a quarter of voters are still to make up their minds.

Is the ‘all to play for’ game working? One Labour councillor tells me their local campaign “has definitely stepped up” from “three canvassing sessions a day to four”, with an emphasis on face-to-face efforts, versus the telephone-based campaigning that characterised 2019’s wintry election.

They added: “People do get fatigued [but] I think that stage has passed now. As you get within touching distance of the finish line, that does rejuvenate people.”

Both parties see the day of the vote itself – next Thursday – as a crucial ‘get the vote out’ mission. “We are literally canvassing right up until the last minute,” a Labour activist said.

And on the Tory side, one source who has been involved in canvassing reckons many party volunteers “will be potentially taking annual leave to go and canvass on that day”.

They added: “It will obviously be very important to make sure people get out there and vote. Everyone’s just quite exhausted already – for obvious reasons.

“Unfortunately, Rishi doesn’t seem to be cutting through very well with people… we’re going to see a hyper-localised push, I think, especially from the Conservatives.

“I think we’ll just see even more leaflets, and even more door-knocking.”

Another reckons despite “everyone being knackered, there’s always a fresh buzz for that last week” – fuelled in part by the chance for summer refreshments, of ice creams and cold beer. Some “momentum is building especially among undecideds and Reform leaning voters”, they added.

And the weather itself could even play a part, some suggest. “If it’s lovely weather, old people are more likely to get out rather than if it’s dark and dingy,” a Conservative activist mused.

“But at the same time, younger people could be feeling more invigorated by positivity and optimism and go for Labour… or they could all be in the beer gardens and not bothered.”

Another area of final preparations is for local authorities. The opposition leadership – and smaller parties to an extent – has met with top Whitehall civil servants for access talks, essentially a dissection of their policy platform to prepare those who’ll work on delivering it.

It’s the same story in councils across the country, where officers will be going through manifestos with a fine tooth comb, in an effort to seize on potential opportunities early.

“It’s quite common practice to go through the manifestos to highlight anything,” a council source tells me. “If there’s a pledge to say, focus on first-time buyers or change planning laws… they will highlight that and then make sure they get in there quickly.”

And with one more leaders’ debate to go – on the BBC this evening between Starmer and Rishi Sunak – is there still a chance for the Conservatives to turn things around?

One pollster offered a final bit of advice: “If I were the Conservatives, I’d spend the next week only talking about Labour and tax, and Farage and Putin.

“If you do that for long enough and hard enough, you might just squeeze enough votes to return a couple of dozen more colleagues.

“Otherwise the polls are looking like they’re beginning to agree that this is going to be a historically bad night for the Conservatives and an unprecedented one for Labour.“