Tories Pivot to Once-Safe Seats in Bid to Stop Election Wipeout

(Bloomberg) -- Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party is moving election campaign resources out of some districts it currently holds after concluding they’re no longer winnable, people familiar with the matter said, in a defensive move to shore up support in areas that would normally be considered a Tory stronghold.

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The dramatic move just two weeks away from the general election will be viewed as an effective admission that the UK’s governing party is set for an historic defeat on July 4. It comes a day after a major opinion poll showed the Tories set for a wipeout on an unprecedented scale.

Conservative campaign headquarters on Wednesday told Tory candidates in several constituencies who are defending majorities of over 10,000 votes that their funds and favorable access to party activists was being withdrawn, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Those resources would be directed to other Tory-held districts with even larger majorities that the party believes it has a better chance of winning, the candidates were told. The same decision has been taken with a number of other similar seats, some with lower majorities, the people said.

Sunak will get additional resources in his own constituency of Richmond and Northallerton, the people said, after a poll by Savanta suggested was in danger of becoming the first premier in British history to lose his seat.

Other activists in different parts of Britain would have been told to head to the constituencies of Cabinet ministers seen as under threat. Polls suggest a long list of senior Tories are in danger including Defence Secretary Grant Shapps and Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt. Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt told Bloomberg he faces a battle to keep his seat.

The re-allocation of resources from parts of the Tory heartlands suggests Sunak is making a significant change in the party’s campaign strategy. It will be seen as the clearest evidence yet that party strategists do not believe they can win the election and are now aiming solely to avoid a wipeout.

Sunak raised eyebrows earlier this week when he campaigned in two districts in Devon in the south-west of England, both with majorities of over 14,000. That was seen as sign the Tory campaign is adopting a defensive stance.

Seat-by-seat analysis by Savanta and Electoral Calculus for the Daily Telegraph published Wednesday found the Tories are on track to win just 53 seats in next month’s vote, an all-time low for the 190-year-old party.

YouGov put them on 108 seats — which would also be a record — while a More in Common survey for the News Agents podcast projected the Tories slipping to 155 seats. Even that would be 10 lower than in 1997, when the Conservatives last lost power to the Labour Party in a Tony Blair-inspired landslide.

Cabinet Minister Michael Gove insisted on Thursday that there is still time for the Tories to turn the polls around. “Sometimes it looks as though the odds are against you, but you keep on fighting,” he told Sky News.

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