Labour candidates defending seats with narrow majorities are reporting disillusionment and anger on the doorstep, with neither Jeremy Corbyn nor Boris Johnson yet inspiring voters.
With three weeks to go until polling day, the Guardian spoke to candidates and officials in more than a dozen Labour-held constituencies.
One Labour candidate hoping to retain their seat in the West Midlands was extremely gloomy about their prospects, saying it “feels worse than last time”.
“It’s much more about Corbyn than Brexit,” they said. “I have people who are down as Labour supporters saying they won’t come out for me because of him. And this time, it’s much harder to make the argument that Corbyn won’t win so you might as well vote to have a Labour MP’– which is what we were doing in 2017.”
The candidate said they had been given some hope from the sense that the contest had become one between the ABBs versus the ABCs – the Anyone But Borises versus the Anyone But Corbyns. “People are going to vote for who they hate the least. There doesn’t seem to be much enthusiasm for either leader.”
Some Labour candidates also told the Guardian they were being given few resources and help from their regional offices to defend marginal seats, complaining that a “really, really offensive rather than defensive campaign” is being run to target new seats.
“I’m getting nothing from HQ,” one said. “Apart from maybe a few mailshots, which I only want if it doesn’t have Jeremy’s face on it.”
But another candidate in a Labour-held leave seat said: “I had low expectations, but it’s all right.” She added that Johnson’s lack of popularity was helping. “We have had Tory voters telling us they can’t vote Tory – though they’re not going to vote for us either.”
She added that canvassers had detected a sharp gender and age divide. “Women and younger voters seem to be staying with us; and older men are more angry.”
Another candidate agreed that women do not like Johnson; and said they were actively targeting female voters and seeking to move the conversation on to whether they trust the prime minister.
Several candidates said the cross-currents of leave and remain, and the impossibility of predicting how well the minor parties will perform, make them particularly uncertain about the result.
Alex Sobel, who hopes to hold his Leeds North West seat, said: “It’s a weird and unpredictable election.”
Gareth Snell, who is defending the leave-leaning seat of Stoke-on-Trent central, added: “It’s a very difficult campaign, and we’re getting a lot of people who are former Labour voters who aren’t sure: but they’re prepared to be persuaded. Even though they are not sure on us, they just don’t trust Boris Johnson.”
Preet Gill, the Labour candidate for Edgbaston, said: “When you knock on a door, people do start off saying, ‘You politicians, what is the point, you have damaged the country.’ Leavers and remainers. It is a rant about politics in general. It takes a while to get over that but once they have, you can get people talking about the issues that matter.”
Gill added: “I am feeling pretty positive about the election, I think I will be re-elected. Brexit hasn’t come up as much on the doorstep as you might expect. I have four wards, two leave and two remain, and my constituency voted 52.7% to remain and I’m a remainer.
“People are worried and embarrassed by the state of the country and the fact that the rest of the world is laughing at our political crisis. They say we are supposed to be a pillar of fairness and democracy but we look like a joke.
Natalie Fleet, who hopes to win Ashfield, the seat vacated by Labour’s Gloria De Piero, has had to contend with the windows of her campaign HQ being broken during the campaign, and says many of the voters she meets start off being sceptical.
“There’s a lot of fake news put around which means we’re greeted quite angrily on some doors. But the reason why I’m doing what I’m doing every day is because people really believe – and I really believe – in the difference Labour can make to people’s lives. All the rest is just noise.”
Another candidate in a leave seat, who did not wish to be named, said he feared he would be hunting for a job after 13 December. “They don’t like Jeremy Corbyn and they don’t like our Brexit stance,” he said.
A colleague in a northern seat being heavily targeted by the Tories said it was “far too early to tell” and she was optimistic that the polls would narrow like last time. “I thought I was going to lose then, and I hung on. So let’s see if history repeats itself this time.”