‘News to me’ says senior Labour figure on switch to defend Leave-voting seats

A senior Labour minister has denied talk of his party shifting its focus to Leave-voting areas after a projection poll put the Tories on course for a comfortable majority.

The BBC reported that Labour would change tack to defend its heartland areas in the North of England and the Midlands, where communities voted to leave the European Union in 2016, following predictions of the worst Labour showing at an election for more than 30 years.

But shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said he has had “no discussions” about a switch to fighting off Tory gains in constituencies such as Great Grimsby and Bolsover.

Other strongholds predicted to go blue by a YouGov MRP poll include Wrexham in North Wales, deputy Labour leader Tom Watson’s recently vacated seat of West Bromwich East in the West Midlands and Stoke-on-Trent Central in Staffordshire.

Mr Gardiner – a figure often tasked with defending Labour’s position on the airwaves – said: “This is news to me this morning. I have not had any discussions on that.

“Obviously what we want to do is to make sure that we keep on, as we have been doing over the past few weeks, narrowing that margin in the polls,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The constituency-by-constituency estimates by YouGov, published in The Times, indicated that if the election was held on Thursday, the Conservative Party would win 359 seats – 42 more than they took in 2017 and a majority of 68.

Labour could be on the path to a disastrous showing, losing 51 seats compared to its shock surge two years ago.

Local council elections 2016
A host of Labour Leave-voting seats could go Tory at next month’s election, according to YouGov analysis (Hannah McKay/PA)

It would be the party’s worst performance in seats won since 1983, YouGov said, adding that the Opposition is on course not to make a single gain across Britain.

Of the 76 Labour-held seats where it leads the Tories by fewer than 8,000 votes, Jeremy Corbyn’s party is currently behind in 43 of them, according to the analysis which has been released just over two weeks before polling day.

YouGov used the same method in the 2017 general election, when it accurately predicted the results in 93% of constituencies and pointed towards a hung Parliament, analysing 100,000 interviews and then adding in local factors.

It comes as a leading economic think tank warned that neither Labour nor the Tories had put forward a “properly credible prospectus” in their General Election manifesto spending plans.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said it was “highly likely” that a Conservative government would end up spending more than their manifesto implied – meaning either taxes or borrowing would have to rise.

Director Paul Johnson said that the chances of the Conservatives being able to hold spending down over the course of a five-year parliament in the way that they proposed appeared to be “remote”.

IFS Johnson
Paul Johnson, director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies (Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament)

He added that it was “highly likely” that a Labour government would have to find other tax increases beyond those it has announced for big business and the better off if it was to raise the extra £83 billion a year in additional revenues it wants.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats, according to the YouGov MRP poll, are currently on course to win just one more seat, moving from 12 to 13 on the 2017 total.

They finished the last parliamentary session on 20 MPs, having been boosted by a series of defections from disgruntled Tories and Labour figures.

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson will make a bid to change those predictions in a speech in London on Thursday, targeting Tory supporters who are wary of putting Boris Johnson back into Number 10.

In her speech she is expected to tell voters they “cannot trust a word Boris Johnson says”.

Swinson poll
Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson

“The man will say anything, if it means getting what he wants,” she will add.

Tory leader Mr Johnson faced further controversy after comments he wrote in right-leaning magazine Spectator emerged in which he branded the children of single mothers “ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate”.

He made public his view in a 1995 issue of the magazine where he went on to become editor.

Shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti said the descriptions of single-parent raised children revealed Mr Johnson’s “contempt for women and families”.

The Prime Minister’s comments coincide with celebrations to mark the centenary of the first woman MP, Lady Nancy Astor, taking her seat in Parliament in 1945 as member for Plymouth Sutton.

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