OPINION - The Tories have given up trying to win the election

 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Rafael Nadal, (French Open champion: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2022), was fond of spending his pre-tournament press conferences telling anyone who would listen that he was not the favourite. No one believed him, of course, but it made a certain amount of sense. Winning is difficult, even for all-time greats, and it never hurts to take some of the pressure off.

The Conservative Party (UK general election champions: 1841, 1852*, 1874, 1886, 1895, 1900, 1918, 1922, 1923*, 1924, 1931, 1935, 1951, 1955, 1959, 1970, 1979, 1983, 1987, 1992, 2010*, 2015, 2017*, 2019) is the Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros of British politics. And in that vein, defence secretary Grant Shapps this morning looked to play down his side's chances, by pleading with voters not to hand Keir Starmer a "super-majority". In doing so, he effectively conceded that the Tories will lose the election.

This is also borne out in the data. I know you lot love an interactive map, so check out this one produced by The Timeswhich illustrates where Conservative cabinet ministers and their Labour shadows have been campaigning. Hint: they're practically all in what might previously have been described as deep blue seats. Indeed, the typical visit by a top Tory is to a constituency won by 20 points in 2019, with an average majority of more than 10,000. As defensive campaigns go, that is parking the (battle) bus.

Shapps's messaging is part expectations management, part pop psychology. The Conservatives need unhappy former supporters either to return to the Tory fold, or at least not vote for another party. The prospect of a massive Labour majority might do more in that regard than the promise of yet another penny off national insurance. It is also the message Labour HQ doesn't want its voters to hear. That's why Sadiq Khan's mayoral team were only too happy with with suggestions Susan Hall might win – that was their message too, albeit for different reasons.

Sometimes, a core vote strategy makes a lot of sense. Cast your minds back to the campaigns of William Hague in 2001 ("Save the pound"), Michael Howard in 2005 ("Are you thinking what we're thinking?") and Gordon Brown in 2010 ("Come home to Labour"). When executed well, they at least enable parties to remain a functioning force by securing that most precious of second prizes in British politics – official opposition status. But core vote strategies are rarely pretty, and often indicate not only a political crisis but an ideological dead end.

Still, it's funny how life works out. In certain flawed democracies, the fear is that the losing candidate will not accept their defeat. Britain's may be far from perfect, but the governing party at least appears to have conceded, albeit before a vote has been cast.

* It's complicated

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