State of Play: Where are the parties with three weeks to go?

PUBLISHED: 17:55 12 May 2017 | UPDATED: 17:55 12 May 2017

Prime Minister Theresa May during a visit to the International Aviation Academy in Norwich.
Picture: Nick Butcher

Prime Minister Theresa May during a visit to the International Aviation Academy in Norwich. Picture: Nick Butcher

Archant © 2017

The party machines are at full power with air wars launched and foot soldiers dispatched to doorsteps in every marginal seat.

The leaders are locked-in for battle, from here on in anything goes – even forcing your husband to appear on the One Show.

The Conservatives started their campaign with a steady confidence and steely determination – much like their boss Theresa May. Earlier this week she paid a flying visit to Norwich and was unruffled by meeting teachers, students and even the dastardly members of Her Majesty’s press.

But she is not the most personable of leaders – in fact she is rather robotic. So, in a bid to humanise Mrs May she joined interminably nice Matt Baker and Alex Jones on the sofa of the One Show. And she took her poor husband Philip.

The focus of attention for once was not on her but him: what would he wear, would he say something he shouldn’t and be rushed off set by a determined prime ministerial aide?

But Philip was a bit nervous and awkward but his very human reaction to being out of his comfort zone was endearing – but don’t expect to see him on the campaign trail regularly. The PM wants to focus on the job in hand and although she understands the exposure popular television shows provide she is more comfortable talking policy.

And those policies are proving popular with more than just true-blue Tories. Such are the confidence levels in the ranks that re-heated Labour policies like energy caps are applauded when only a few years ago they were dubbed dangerous and even “Marxist”.

This lunge towards Labour voters is something the PM admits: “I will be reaching out to all those who have been abandoned by Labour.”

Expect to see evidence of this in the Labour seat of Norwich South where the Tories fancy their chances against Clive Lewis. Just this week the PM endorsed Lana Hempsall’s bid to unseat Mr Lewis and Home Secretary Amber Rudd paid a visit as well.

And nearby Tories with safe seats have been helping on the doorsteps. Already Tories from Bury St Edmunds and Harwich and North Essex have been on patch pounding the pavements. The pair – Jo Churchill and Bernard Jenkin – won very big majorities two years ago and are expected to do the same again, so the party is dispatching them to nearby battlegrounds. In fact while Mr Lewis was getting married last Saturday the Tories were launching an offensive across the whole constituency.

Mrs May can smell blood. Although the embarrassing leak of the Labour manifesto actually got the party’s ideas far more coverage than they would normal have been afforded, the Tories aren’t worried. Jeremy Corbyn’s wish list is not far-removed from Ed Miliband’s in 2015 but it won’t sweep Labour to power.

It is not so much the policies that are the problem – it is Mr Corbyn, and the candidates know it. In Norwich South Mr Lewis hasn’t even put his leader on his leaflets. Labour’s top brass keep having to deny things they are not (“not a Marxist” ... “not a pacifist”) rather than tell the voters what they are and why they should back them. The party have yet to get on the front foot.

But it is not just Labour blood in the water attracting the Tory sharks – they are eyeing up Liberal Democrats as well. Tim Farron has performed well so far but UKIP’s decision not to stand in North Norfolk puts Norman Lamb’s seat in jeopardy. Mr Lamb said: “I know I am in a fight – but I hope I have built up enough personal relationships in my years representing this constituency to prove I am the man for the job again.”

Even Mr Farron agrees this election is a “foregone conclusion” but for some of his candidates – and plenty of Labour ones – the fight has only just begun.

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