POLITICAL activists are familiar with the odd doorstep mauling.
Everyone loves to have a rant about politicians so campaigners develop a thick skin, a sense of humour and a good instinct on when to beat a hasty retreat.
Tory chiefs fear they will lose support in local elections due to Theresa May’s failure to deliver Brexit
I was once chased away by an angry man waving what appeared to be a courgette, while on another occasion a lady did a remarkable impression of an angry, barking dog until I left her garden.
But even Tory veterans are shocked at the response they’re getting when out campaigning for the local elections on May 2.
Doors have been slammed in faces — and by people who voted Conservative not just last time but at every election on record.
Others barely get past “hello” before they are bombarded with a volley of four-letter abuse, sparked simply by the sight of a blue rosette.
Several local Conservative offices have had their own leaflets back by return post, torn to pieces or scrawled with the word “Traitor”.
“Utterly horrendous” is how one long-serving volunteer in a true blue area described it this week.
The reason for this unbridled fury, disgust and loss of trust is obvious.
The campaign isn’t dominated by talk of local government, public services or housing, but by wall-to-wall coverage of the Prime Minister’s disastrous mishandling of Brexit.
Theresa May pitched herself as the person who could be trusted by Leave voters, but she has broken her promise.
IRE OF VOTERS
MPs elected on the pledge to follow the clear instruction from the people are instead indulging themselves with in-fighting, posturing and back-pedalling.
And in the absence of the Prime Minister herself, it is the local Tory councillors and volunteers who find themselves in the firing line for the ire of outraged voters.
The experience of Andrew Kennedy, chairman of the Conservatives in Chatham and Aylesford — solidly pro-Leave Kentish Tory territory — this week is not untypical.
He said: “I was canvassing in a working-class part of ‘my’ ward and the sense of anger and betrayal over Brexit was overwhelming.
“Not just directed at Government, but all politicians. One even told me, ‘You b******s have stolen our dreams’.”
“One chap in his fifties shook hands and smiled when I told him the role I had played in vote Leave. Then he said, ‘the trouble is that if I vote for you, the chances are you’ll turn out like the rest of them and let us down too’.”
A councillor in the North told me yesterday: “People are really angry, sometimes in tears, and I can’t blame them.
“If anything, I agree with them. What am I meant to say?”
Many Brexit-supporting voters who backed the Conservatives for the first time in 2017 are disillusioned, and candidates find themselves having to fight for every vote.
But the fury is also visible among elements of the Tory base. Another canvasser told me yesterday: “These are our people. These are Maggie’s people — and they hate us.
A portion of Tory party members are effectively on strike, refusing to stand as paper candidates, deliver leaflets or even sign nomination forms
“They were shouting, ‘What’s the point of voting?’ and it really shook me.”
A campaign team in the Midlands found that up to a fifth of their true blue Tory voters, “are saying they won’t vote for us like usual, as we failed on Brexit”.
Some councillors running for a second term are getting a particularly sharp shock because they were first elected in 2015, when David Cameron was about to win his majority. “It was all
sunshine and happy times then, but now it’s far more negative,” a party official admits.
A portion of Tory party members are effectively on strike, refusing to stand as paper candidates, deliver leaflets or even sign nomination forms.
One South West MP is blunt about where the blame lies: “People are realising that May is the roadblock.”
So what will this rage amount to on polling day? Can anything be done to take the edge off it?
Labour and the Lib Dems have surprised — and helped — the Conservatives by failing to put up as many candidates as expected, while Ukip has shrivelled and Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party is
focusing solely on the expected European elections.
That might allow some Tory candidates to dodge the consequences of Theresa May’s mess. Their voters might stay home, but they find it hard to imagine Conservative Brexiteers voting for Remain-supporting Lib Dems or Corbyn’s Labour Party.
“I don’t think I’d win if there was a Ukip candidate, and fortunately there isn’t,” noted one, with relief.
Others fear a “rise of the independents”, with people opting to punish the whole political class by voting for somebody not in party colours.
“I say to everybody it’s bins not Brexit”, an activist in the South East tells me.
In the Midlands, a veteran volunteer says his party and its logo are becoming a liability: “You can’t rely on that little tree logo like you could before.
“We’re taking the branding off everything and making it local.”
Sometimes it works. In Stoke-on-Trent, Tory candidates have been able to win round some angry Brexiteers by warning of Labour’s plans to charge to get bins emptied.
“These victories are hard won, but they offer a glimmer of hope to tired volunteers.
“Yet success stories are all too rare. “It’s going to be bad,” a veteran campaigner concludes, “the worst locals since the ’90s.”
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The thought of a return to those dark days sends a shudder down any Conservative’s spine.
The price of a local election bloodbath would be paid by hard-working Tory councillors, but they all know the true cause of this popular rage is the Prime Minister herself.
Every seat lost will be another voice demanding that she resign.
Mark Wallace is executive editor of Conservative Home.
Reuters Tory councillors and volunteers find themselves in the firing line for the ire of outraged voters
Theresa May addresses the nation on cross-party talks with Labour to tackle Brexit