Binary questions in two weeks of two-party politics

Mixed emotions

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Image caption Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May oversaw conferences with drastically different moods

Our part of the country has traditionally been a predominantly two-party affair.

On the evidence of the past two general elections, it is once again.

The Liberal Democrats haven't held more than three seats here at any one time in living memory.

Since 2015 they have had none at all.

Conflicting emotions

The predicted UKIP breakthrough never really materialised either, other than in local councils and the European Parliament, but all Britain's MEPs will disappear in 18 months' time.

Of our 63 constituencies, the Conservatives now hold 39 to Labour's 24.

But you would never have guessed that from the conflicting emotions of the past two weeks' party conferences.

When I interviewed Jeremy Corbyn in the run-up to what looked more like a victory rally in Brighton, I found a leader exuding confidence that Labour really are now the government-in-waiting, no matter that they had just lost their third general election in a row.

Air of unreality

When I put this to the Conservative MEP and party vice-chair Anthea McIntyre she told me Mr Corbyn was "delusional".

There has indeed been an air of unreality about the events of the past two weeks.

Among the Conservatives in Manchester, there were of course the obvious and well-documented highlights, helpful or unhelpful to Theresa May and her Cabinet colleagues.

But in the background of the conference, I found the general atmosphere at best flat and, at worst, a mixture of anger and gloom.

Shifting the centre ground

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Corbyn surge has silenced talk of a Labour breakaway for now

The party is collectively scratching its head over how to contend with Jeremy Corbyn's growing support, especially among younger voters.

They may even be inwardly afraid Mr Corbyn is right when he says the centre ground, where elections are won and lost, is shifting towards his anti-austerity messages.

How else are we to explain Labour capturing Warwick and Leamington from the Conservatives and halving the Tory majority in Worcester?

These are seats which Labour had held only in the heyday of New Labour under Tony Blair.

Erdington strategy

Is it fanciful to suppose, as I suggested in a recent blog post, that "progressive" electorates could be springing up here like a series of mini-Islingtons?

Yes, perhaps it is indeed fanciful!

Because Theresa May remains determined to reach out to those places where the economy is, on her own admission, "not working for everyone".

Before the election, it became known as Erdington, the home town of her, then, joint chief of staff Nick Timothy, whom she was forced to sack after the loss of her Commons majority.

The prime minister told me these ambitions had not gone out of the door with him: And that strategy did indeed appear to work for the Conservatives in the two local constituencies they captured from Labour; Walsall North and Stoke South.

Conservative Home truths?

Image caption James Morris described his party as being seen as "divided and incompetent"

Nevertheless, I have been hearing from several Tory backbenchers who are convinced the party needs to do much more to reconnect with voters.

One of the few to break cover so far is James Morris, MP for Halesowen and Rowley Regis.

He told the Conservative Home website the party was seen as "divided, incompetent and out of touch".

Mrs May needed to show people her government understood how "the domestic agenda" matters to them.

Significantly though, he did not bite when I suggested to him that if it turned out she couldn't achieve this, she should make way for someone else who could.

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Image caption West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said his campaign had appealed across all communities

One Midlander who certainly feels entitled to lecture his party on how to regain the initiative is the Metro Mayor Andy Street.

He reminded the Tory conference that his successful campaign last May had: "Appealed across the region, across all communities and across the age groups.

"It talked of jobs, houses, transport investment and sharing our collective success."

Remember though that Mayor Street won his narrow victory before that Conservative manifesto which Mr Morris said had "retoxified the Conservative brand at a stroke".

One early attempt at repairing the damage inflicted on them by Labour is Mrs May's pledge to raise the threshold for the repayment of student loans.

Image caption Labour's Jack Dromey will appear on Sunday Politics this weekend

But do they run the risk of being perpetually "outbid" by Labour?

And, on the other hand, of undermining their reputation for economic prudence?

There's not so much talk now about "paying down the deficit".

If the Tories look like Labour-lite, why not vote for the real thing?

These are just some of the talking points for this weekend's Sunday Politics Midlands.

I'll be joined in the studio by the Conservative MP for Meriden and former party chair, Dame Caroline Spelman; and by the shadow minister and Labour MP for Birmingham Erdington, Jack Dromey.

And I hope you will join us too, in our usual 11:00 slot on BBC One on Sunday morning, 8 October 2017.