How did the Tories let things slide?

Conservative Party leader Theresa May addresses supporters in North Shields, Tyne and Wear. PRESS A

Conservative Party leader Theresa May addresses supporters in North Shields, Tyne and Wear. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 12, 2017. See PA ELECTION Stories. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire - Credit: PA

It all began as a likely landslide victory for the Conservatives - but that expectation has gradually eroded as the campaign has progressed, until the result has become too close to call. How did this happen? Chris Moncrieff explains

A couple of days from now we will know whether the Prime Minister's decision to call a snap election when the Parliament was still barely two years old, was a stroke of genius or a catastrophic disaster for the Conservative Party.

Theresa May could scarcely have suspected that her party's massive lead in the opinion polls when she stood outside Number 10 and called the election, would so rapidly deteriorate during the course of the campaign.

At the time, everyone was talking about a landslide victory for the Tories on June 8. Now, astonishingly it is becoming almost too close to call. As one unnamed Labour supporter commented: 'It is quite an achievement to plummet so far so fast.'

All the Conservatives apparently needed to do was to keep a steady hand on the tiller and not take any risks.

All seemed to be going well for the Tories until the kerfuffle over care costs for the elderly, and after that, the apparent confusion over the Conservatives' taxation proposals. It was beginning to look, on these two key issues, that the Tory Party's left hand did not know what the right hand was doing.

And Jeremy Corbyn was quick to exploit these serious discrepancies, as Labour gradually moved within hailing distance of 10 Downing Street - something no one would have believed possible a month or so ago.

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Corbyn has described the Tory taxation policy as being in 'chaos' - using the word Theresa May has used about Labour from Day One of the campaign.

So now, against all the odds, everything is suddenly up for grabs. There will certainly be some pounding hearts as the results come through on the night of June 8-9.

The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, was clearly the star of the television debate last week, involving senior figures from the political parties, although not the Prime Minister.

Indeed, her performance was so impressive that she was being talked about as possibly replacing Philip Hammond as Chancellor of the Exchequer, if the Conservatives win the election. If that happened, she would become the first female to hold this post in Britain.

Needless to say, Hammond has declined to comment on this speculation, saying he is focused, to the exclusion of all else at the moment, on winning the election.

It is certainly true that Hammond's first and only budget so far was not a howling success, but it certainly seems unduly premature to discuss any cabinet changes before Theresa May has either won - or indeed, lost the election.

The Prime Minister was in Derby the other day. When she was asked what first came to her mind when she hears Derby being mentioned, she replied without hesitation: 'Brian Clough', which seemed surprising from someone who is not known particularly as a football fan. But she was, after all, standing in Pride Park at the time, the home of Derby County.

At the risk of sounding cynical, I would venture to suggest this was a planted question, and that the Prime Minister had been primed to give the answer she did.

Tory Michael Fabricant, who is seeking re-election to his former Lichfield and Tamworth seat, plainly does not believe in half measures.

When he was asked the other day what he could expect if he voted for Theresa May, Fabricant Tweeted back without hesitation: 'Endless joy.'