Battle for Welsh votes shows Tory ambitions

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Media caption,

Labour voters in Porthcawl weigh up their options

She hardly cuts the jib of a radical. But despite warnings against complacency from the prime minister's own lips today, be in no doubt - the Tories are deadly serious about a potential reshaping of Britain at this election.

Any day on the trail is precious campaigning time. Leaders only tend to turn up where they think they are in the game. So a Welsh visit, Theresa May's fifth in three months, is revealing.

It shows the Conservatives are not just contemplating a bigger majority by scooping up traditional Tory-Labour marginal seats in England.

But even if you ignore the polls, senior sources indicate they could possibly return to levels of support not seen in Wales for more than 30 years.

And privately they expect gains in Scotland too. Theresa May hopes to make her claim there are no Tory no-go areas come true. The European referendum has redrawn the map. She wants to colour it blue.

For that to happen here in Wales, that means overturning decades of support for Labour in many areas. Are voters ready to do that in high enough numbers? It's of course far too early to tell.

Don't forget the Tories already improved their share of the vote significantly in 2015, winning 11 seats.

But on the Porthcawl seafront in Bridgend, the backyard of the Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones, we met plenty of voters who are certainly ready to consider it.

The Edwards, father and son, told me they'd both been Labour voters all their lives. But could they switch? Mark told me his 85-year-old father had already done so. He said "she is wonderful, best we've had," when he started talking about Theresa May.

Mr Edwards senior told me he had been 'life-long Labour' but that Jeremy Corbyn was "30 or 40 years out of date - he wants to introduce a gimmick, communism".

He was plainly angry about what's happened to the Labour party in recent years, saying it had been led by "conmen". Mr Edwards parting shot was "bye, bye Mr Corbyn".

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Labour has held Bridgend for the past 30 years

Another voter, Brian Holley presented his own dilemma, that could be shared by many voters in Wales, where overall, the vote was to leave the EU. Brian told me he'd voted to Leave but his local Labour MP had backed Remain.

That was reason for him to be, as he expressed it, "on the border" between sticking with Labour and voting Tory for the first time.

Sharing a morning cuppa with him was Eira Linehan, who said for the "first time ever" she was considering voting Tory because while she agreed with Jeremy Corbyn's ideas, they wouldn't work in the "real world".

They said "we're all Labour" in their constituency, but they are likely to vote Tory because of Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, even though, "my father will be spinning in his grave".

Conversations about voting intentions seven weeks out are absolutely no substitute for the final poll of course. And we are only at the early stages of this campaign. It's worth noting too there were warnings of Labour taking heavy fire in the Welsh Assembly elections last year.

In the end, they remained the largest party, and Carwyn Jones kept his job as First Minister, albeit with the help of Plaid Cymru.

Yet even the Welsh Labour leader was plain to the BBC today that Jeremy Corbyn still has to "prove himself", warning there is a "mountain to climb".

In remarks that could become very significant after the election, Mr Jones was clear "Jeremy is leading the campaign and Jeremy will take credit or responsibility". He also called for a manifesto that has the "widest buy-in possible from people".

But 'wide buy-in'? Support that Labour can truly bank on? Not a bit of it.

Yet, as Theresa May left the community centre where she had talked to activists tonight, a small, but determined crowd had been waiting in the rain, if only for the chance to shout at her car as her convoy left at speed.

As she swept away, the PM won't be in any doubt that winning Wales or any traditionally Labour territories won't be easy.

And in the volatile world of 2017 politics, there is nowhere where she can be guaranteed of a universally warm welcome.