‘It’s going to be a bloodbath’: Tories target high-profile Labour seats

27 Apr

Conservative campaigners are planning to target high-profile Labour MPs, some with large majorities, in the hope of unseating current and former shadow ministers including Liz Kendall, Tom Watson and Vernon Coaker.

Labour is set to send resources for election battles in seats that the party would normally consider to be safe, including campaigns to shore up MPs who have majorities of more than 10,000.

Kendall, a former Labour leadership candidate who is well regarded by the party’s right wing, has a majority of just over 7,000 in her Leicester West constituency, but local Tories say they are hopeful of taking the seat.

Conservatives also said they were optimistic about unseating Nottingham MPs Lilian Greenwood, a former shadow transport secretary, and Coaker, the former schools minister.

“It’s going to be a bloodbath and Labour know it,” one Conservative MP said. “We’re going after people like Liz Kendall, and I think we’ll give her a good run. Lilian Greenwood, Vernon Coaker will be gone as well. Tom Watson is in a bit of trouble as well because he’s got a big Ukip vote [which may go Conservative].”

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Another Midlands Tory MP said: “We are going to do very well in the east Midlands and the question is how well. Vernon Coaker is going to have to work very hard to keep that seat, even though he’s been there 20 years. In the West Midlands, we’re going to do even better.”

Watson’s seat in West Bromwich East is not considered by the party to be at risk and neighbouring Labour MPs who spoke to the Guardian on Wednesday said they had seen no sign yet of a targeted Tory offensive.

Greenwood said: “If the Tories want to come after Nottingham South they better be ready for a fight. People round here haven’t seen a Tory since 2015. I’m never complacent but my constituents know they need a strong and experienced Labour MP to stand up for them, their families and our city.”

A senior party source said they knew the east Midlands was set to be a tough sell for Labour. “It is tricky ground for Labour, it is a bellwether,” the source said. “There are seats there that Labour were challenging to win in 2015 that are now considered safe Tory seats.”

Kendall said she had “always treated Leicester West as a marginal seat” and said she hoped her record would be key to returning to parliament in June. “People know my record on big local issues, like saving the children’s heart unit at Glenfield hospital and being tough on crime and antisocial behaviour, and they know I’ve always been independent-minded,” she said. “I’ve never taken this seat for granted.”

Allies in the constituency said the Tories had a limited presence so far and voters would be unlikely to take kindly to busloads of Conservative activists.

Richard Angell, the director of the centrist Labour pressure group Progress, said: “The Tories have bitten off more than they can chew if they think that can take out Liz Kendall. The only good news will be to watch the Tories throw good money after bad in the totally wrong seat.”

After Wednesday’s prime minister’s questions, Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesman struck an upbeat note about Labour’s prospects. He said the Conservatives’ poll lead would narrow once the campaign gets under way and the public hear Labour’s message “in our own voice”.

“We are confident that we can win this election, and we’re fighting for every seat, and we’re confident that once Labour’s message is clearly heard, and there is a chance for the public to hear policies that many of them won’t have heard before, but which are extremely popular, and we know to be so, that will have cut-through, and Labour support will increase,” he said.

One centrist Labour backbencher said they had received less interference from Labour HQ than during other recent campaigns, and were quietly relieved. “The question is, do I really want the centre involved? How much time have I got to debate the content of my leaflets?”

Another MP defending a seat in the traditional Labour heartlands said Corbyn’s leadership had come up repeatedly in encounters with voters in recent days – and far more strongly than during the 2015 campaign. “With Ed [Miliband], it was a creeping doubt; with Jeremy it’s vehement, it’s visceral.”

Jeremy Corbyn



Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership is a hot topic of conversation among voters. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

On Wednesday the party selected candidates for two of its safest seats, vacated by retiring MPs. Barrister Ellie Reeves, a former member of Labour’s NEC and wife of MP John Cryer, will stand in Lewisham West and Penge. Emma Hardy, a former teacher and local Unite activist, will stand for Alan Johnson’s old seat in Hull West.

Hardy beat stiff competition from TSSA officer and former Corbyn spokesman Sam Tarry and Corbyn speechwriter David Prescott, son of former Labour deputy prime minister John Prescott. Blair McDougall, who ran the Better Together campaign for the Scottish referendum, will also attempt to win back East Renfrewshire from the Scottish National party.

While the Tories are trying to oust senior Labour figures, yet another alliance of progressive politicians launched a campaign aiming to unseat pro-Brexit Conservatives.

Another Europe is Possible, backed by Labour MP Clive Lewis and Green MP Caroline Lucas, said it would be intervening in the election campaign under the banner of “use your vote to stop Tory Brexit”. The group is not explicitly advocating tactical voting but will aim to win swing voters away from the Conservatives.

Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South – who won his seat off Liberal Democrat Simon Wright, but whose nearest challenger in 2015 was the Conservatives – said: “The Tories’ plan for Brexit is a plan for a race to the bottom which we will all lose – with weakened human rights, rampant deregulation, and a diminished Britain. We have to wake up before it’s too late – and vote to stop Tory Brexit.”

Labour has ruled out any progressive alliances and the Green party are also standing candidates in marginal Labour seats. Last week, however, the former prime minister Tony Blair said voters should consider backing any candidate if they promise to have an open mind about the terms of the final Brexit deal. Several other organisations are running targeted seat campaigns, including pro-EU Open Britain and the centre-left thinktank Compass.

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