General election 2017: Have the Tories blown it?

With a week to go, the race is looking more uncertain than ever

Theresa May
(Image credit: Paul Ellis/Getty)

With just one week of campaigning to go before Britain goes to the polls to elect its next government, the race has become tighter than politicians and pollsters ever expected.

After going into the campaign with a lead which some pollsters put as high as 21 points, the sprint to the finish line now sees the Conservatives just three points up on Labour.

It raises the possibility that, rather than the landslide victory she could once expect, the Prime Minister could be on her way out of Downing Street in a week's time.

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Although other polls give the government more breathing room, it is clear that the gap has narrowed significantly in the closing stages of the campaign.

The release of the Conservative manifesto was a crucial turning point in the narrative of the election.

A policy which would see the elderly pay for at-home NHS care became known as a "dementia tax" and proved a flashpoint for wider discontent with the effects of the government's austerity policies.

The furore over the hastily-scrapped proposal provided Labour with a welcome opportunity to drag the spotlight from Brexit to health, education and social care.

The narrative of the two leaders has also shifted. Hoping to capitalise on the Labour leader's unpopularity, May "deliberately set up the election as a presidential-style fight between herself and Corbyn", says Time - and promptly "blew" her double-digit lead.

Once rated highly by voters across the spectrum as a strong, no-nonsense leader, May "is not the figure she was in the eyes of the public", says Stephen Bush in the New Statesman.

From the start, May has been criticised for filling her campaign events with friendly local Tory activists, and her refusal to participate in a BBC leaders' debateon Wednesday night only exacerbated claims she was refusing to engage with the electorate.

Conversely, Corbyn's warm reception by the audience at the same BBC debate suggests the Labour leader "has tapped into something that the commentariat has largely missed", says Bush.

A Conservative candidate standing for re-election in a marginal seat told Huffington Post UK that they had noticed a change on the ground.

"It’s a completely different experience to what it was four weeks ago," the anonymous candidate said, adding they were "pretty f**ked off" at the way the party's campaign had been conducted.

The "dementia tax" - and the Prime Minister's undignified scramble to change the policy - was on the minds of many voters, they said.

"People on the doorstep are telling me: 'She's going after pensioners, she doesn't know what she's doing, she doesn't answer questions on the TV'," the candidate said.

Even the professional pollsters are struggling to read the likely outcome - "estimates are all over the place," says the Daily Telegraph's Asa Bennett.

Depending on which polls you read, the outcome next week could be anything "from Theresa May winning a healthy majority to her being hounded out by Jeremy Corbyn".

It will all come down to turnout, says Politico.

Labour's dreams of an underdog triumph are not totally implausible, but they are "hugely dependent on the June 8 election bucking a well-worn trend".

Corbyn's popularity is highest among young voters, but they are the least likely to actually turn out to vote.

In the 2015 general election, 18 to 24 year olds "were almost half as likely to vote as those aged over 65", Politico says.

Next week will be the ultimate test of whether Corbyn has inspired this crucial demographic enough to get them to the polling station.

One anonymous Tory MP who spoke to Huffington Post Uk was sceptical that Corbyn-mania will fuel a major upset at the polls.

“Under-30s love Corbyn but they don’t care enough to get off their lazy arses to vote for him," they said.

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