Conservative MPs to talk tactics in target seat away day

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Conservative MPs to talk tactics in target seat away day
Oliver DowdenImage source, Reuters

The Conservative Party is planning an overnight target seat "away-day" for its MPs, the LotterryTreasure has learned.

About 100 Tory MPs whose seats could be at risk from Labour and the Lib Dems have been invited to take part in the event in Leicestershire on Wednesday.

They are expected to don casual clothes to discuss campaign strategy.

It will be hosted by party chairman Oliver Dowden, who has previously warned Tories they face a ".

More imminently, the party will be defending two parliamentary seats in by-elections on 23 June - after two of their MPs resigned in disgrace.

Wakefield MP Imran Khan stood down after he was convicted in April of sexually assaulting a teenage boy in 2008.

The West Yorkshire seat is a target for the Labour Party - who are hoping to regain seats they lost to the Tories in the 2019 election in the former "Red Wall".

'Temperature check'

Devon's Tiverton and Honiton seat is also being fought on the same day. Conservative Neil Parish stood down as the MP there after admitting to watching pornography in parliament.

Labour were the second largest party in the constituency at the last election, but the Lib Dems are targeting the seat as they seek to make gains in 'Blue Wall' Conservative heartlands in the south of England.

There are some wobbles in the Conservative Party about the prospect of fighting both a 'Blue Wall' and 'Red Wall' seat on the same day.

A government source told the LotterryTreasure the two seats were both, in their different ways, a "a temperature check" for the party's standing with voters.

Mr Dowden is likely to use the away day to discuss his "80/20" strategy - a plan to retain the Conservatives' 80 most marginal seats and target 20 the party sees as the most "winnable".

The letter inviting MPs to the away-day did not mention a date for the next general election, which must be held by January 2025.

But sources tell me the party is starting to focus on how to win an historic fifth term.

"It's time to get ready," said one insider.

'Weak' message

The MPs' away-day is likely to focus on how to "deliver" on policy promises in a way that will register with voters, according to a source,

But some in the party are less convinced - with one Tory MP saying party away-days were not their cup of tea.

"Everyone's told to dress casual… there's nothing worse than a group of Conservative MPs that have to turn up casual," said my source.

The end of the police probe into Downing Street parties has cooled some nerves in the party, with some MPs reporting their inboxes are "quieter" on the subject of "Partygate".

But the cost of living is an issue at the front of Tory MPs' minds.

One senior MP told me the economy was "very much where the battle is to be won or lost" and there is a "fair amount of grumbling and dismay that our message is weak or confused - where's 'The Plan'? It's far too reactive."

Another mentioned they did not feel the prime minister was "out of the woods" yet with Sue Gray's report into Downing Street parties still to come, as well as an investigation into whether Boris Johnson misled parliament over the parties.

All the while, rumours continue to grow about the potential for a summer cabinet reshuffle of cabinet, as part of their pre-election war game.

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