General election 2019: Will the Tories' Brexit-heavy campaign work?

Laura Kuenssberg
Political editor
@bbclaurakon Twitter

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Image source, Getty Images

"If it sticks we'll be fine" - hammer the core message, again and again, and plot a path to victory.

That's how one cabinet minister reckons the Tories can win.

After the last couple of extremely bumpy days for their party, they are hoping this will be a campaign where surprises are not a regular feature.

Instead, they and many of their colleagues reckon the plea for a majority to sort out the Brexit-induced mess of the last few years super fast will find resonance on the doors, saying they are already hearing voters quote back the '"get Brexit done" slogan.

Another cabinet minister says "it's not Parliament versus the people, it's more positive than the pitchfork, but it feels good on the ground - we are hearing from a lot of people they do reckon it's Parliament that's out of touch".

Events of the last 48 hours have shown already, as I wrote on Tuesday night, that events come crashing into parties' hopes and fears pretty fast and knock them off course.

There is another fear among some Conservatives though. The strategy coming out of Tory HQ is crystal clear - end the political agony of Brexit, attract extra Leave voters who are fed up, while hanging on to as many of their existing seats as they can.

But, with such a Brexit-heavy message, will they - can they - do both at the same time?

One former minister (one of a tiny number who predicted a hung Parliament last time round!) fears "this campaign is for the 52%, and the problem is that it is not the same electorate".

In their area, the highest turnout in the 2016 referendum was in a Labour part of the constituency, where people chose overwhelmingly to Leave. But in general elections in that same ward, the turnout is lowest.

And it's not just the question that's been much discussed - would Leave voters who wouldn't normally dream of voting Tory vote for Boris Johnson because of Brexit - that matters. It's how motivated that group will be.

The same senior Tory worries there just won't be enough voters and many of their normal voters are so cross about Brexit that, "we have lost the professional classes".

No-one would deny that Brexit has changed the political arithmetic, but the sums may not add up for the Conservatives at all.

Brexit deal 'changed everything'

Other senior figures argue that it won't be as one dimensional. One cabinet minister says "the pool is larger than during the referendum. There will be a strong economy argument that will work in Lib Dem-facing seats" - broadly hoping there will be a reason for those Remain-tending Tories to stick with the party.

There's a big speech from the chancellor tomorrow morning that might start to build that too. One No 10 insider says "we have to appeal to a bunch of richer, better-educated Tory Remainers who might be tempted by the Lib Dems".

That is why another minister is so relieved their party is going into the election with a Brexit deal. "It's changed everything," they say.

In other words, they don't have to knock on doors and argue for leaving the EU in eight weeks' time with potential economic turmoil.

Around the country in the next few weeks, Boris Johnson and his team of Vote Leavers will make arguments as bold and likely as brash as they did in 2016. But it's not the same year, not the same political atmosphere, and potentially, not the same voters who'll make the difference.

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