Theresa May British PM woos Brexit voters but manifesto row hits support

After a wobble in her campaign, British Prime Minister Theresa May sought to woo voters in a Brexit-backing constituency Thursday but activists warned that a policy misstep had lost her support.

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Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at an election campaign event in northeast England play

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at an election campaign event in northeast England

(POOL/AFP)
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After a wobble in her campaign, British Prime Minister Theresa May sought to woo voters in a Brexit-backing constituency Thursday but activists warned that a policy misstep had lost her support.

The Conservatives have seen their once 20-point poll lead slashed since being forced to amend a key manifesto pledge on elderly care, although they are still ahead of the opposition Labour party.

With one week to go until the June 8 vote, May headed to the Brexit-backing northeast of England in a bid to refocus the debate on her vow to get the best deal for Britain as it leaves the EU.

"If we get Brexit right, I'm convinced that the future will be brighter," the prime minister told party activists at a construction equipment maker on the outskirts of the market town of Guisborough.

Her promises to cut immigration and to be tough in talks with the European Union, which are due to start later this month, went down well with the audience.

"This part of the world voted very strongly for Brexit and I think it's important that we get it right," said Paul Howell, who is standing as a Tory candidate in a seat further north.

But he conceded there was also disquiet over May's plans to fill a hole in the budget for elderly care, which could see many people pay more.

"It has affected perceptions," he said.

Jill Coleman, a 70-year-old party activist, said May was "absolutely fabulous" and posed for a picture in front of the bright blue Conservative election "battlebus".

But she said the social care policy -- dubbed the "dementia tax" in the media -- had also caused her alarm.

"I was very worried because my husband has very bad health," she told AFP, adding that she had welcomed confirmation that costs would be capped.

Tory activist Ian Ferguson said his father-in-law -- a lifelong Labour voter -- had been ready to switch to May before the social care row.

"She was actually getting through to him but that one stumbling block over the dementia tax is (creating) a hesitancy," he said.

'So many U-turns'

Guisborough is in the parliamentary seat of Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, a Conservative target in next week's vote.

Labour had a majority of 2,268 at the last election, which May is hoping to overturn as she targets working-class voters who backed Brexit.

In a speech at CJ Leonard & Sons, which sells digging equipment near the Yorkshire Moors, May emphasised her plans to improve skills for young people.

But the daughter of the firm's managing director, 20-year-old student Grace Leonard, told AFP the prime minister had failed to win her vote.

Leonard voted Conservative at the last election but accused May of backtracking on her promise not to call a snap election.

"She's made so many U-turns in the past couple weeks I don't see how you can believe in her as a leader," she said.

Andrew Ingram, a 30-year-old student and local Tory party member, said: "This area has been let down by the Labour party so much," he said.

But he admitted the Tories had a battle on their hands to win here, and when asked if many people locally shared his views, conceded: "Not really."

A few miles away in the Middlesbrough suburb of Hemlington, Labour candidate Tracy Harvey said she was not losing any sleep over the Tory challenge.

Handing out leaflets outside a shopping arcade, she said the key issues locally were about jobs and public services.

The major issues in the UK election play

The major issues in the UK election

(AFP)

"Theresa May is using this election for Brexit, but actually on the doorstep, people aren't mentioning that," she said.

She said that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's better-than-expected performances in several television interviews this week had enthused voters.

"People are saying that Jeremy is a strong leader, and that he's got integrity. That's all got to be good," she told AFP.

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