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Tory despair mounting over polls pointing to catastrophe

Rishi Sunak has rejected suggestions that he has given up hope of winning the general election, despite a major shift in his party’s messaging urging voters not to give Labour a massive majority.

The Prime Minister insisted he had “absolutely not” thrown in the towel on his party’s chances of forming the next government amid warnings from Cabinet ministers about the risk of Labour gaining “unchecked” power.

His comments come after a distinct change in tone from the Tories, which has moved from calling on the electorate to vote the party back in to see through its plan, to one of trying to reduce Labour’s margin of victory.

The failure to make any dent in Labour’s lead has left many Tories in despair, with one telling i: “I am bitterly disappointed the polls haven’t narrowed.

“There is no point in me saying it’s all going to be really bad, because that doesn’t help. But the vast majority of my colleagues are working so hard to get the Conservative message across.”

On Wednesday Defence Secretary Grant Shapps admitted that the Tories were now in a battle to prevent a 1997-style landslide defeat, insisting it would be “very bad news” for the country if Sir Keir Starmer were to enter No 10 with his power “unchecked” by Parliament.

The new strategy has been backed by a social media advertising campaign aimed at persuading would-be Reform UK voters not to risk handing Labour a majority which could eclipse even Tony Blair’s victory.

The online advert highlights a scenario suggesting the Tories could be reduced to just 57 seats in Parliament, behind the Liberal Democrats.

Mr Shapps told Times Radio that to ensure proper accountability “you don’t want to have somebody receive a supermajority”.

There is no such thing as a “supermajority” in British politics, as any party with a majority, backed by loyal backbenchers, commands the Commons and is essentially unchecked, albeit with the presence of the House of Lords.

Asked by journalists if the change in campaign tone showed the Tories had conceded defeat, the Prime Minister said: “No absolutely not. What you saw yesterday is we’ve put a manifesto forward which has got a very clear set of tax cuts for the country tax cuts at every stage of your life.

“And I’m really energised to now have a chance to put a very clear plan to the country and talk about all the things I want to do.”

Tory insiders admitted that while there had been no directive from high command, there had been a shift in the messaging.

“We haven’t had an instruction, but there’s evidence that it is a new message,” one source working on the campaign told i, before adding: “They can read the polls.”

A similar message is being pumped out by Tory candidates, with the hardline Conservative Andrea Jenkyns calling for voters on the right to unite to stop a “socialist supermajority” at the election.

Ms Jenkyns has been canvassing with leaflets showing her alongside Reform UK leader Nigel Farage rather than Mr Sunak, and her campaign team has issued a statement discussing how the Conservatives must regroup after an expected defeat come 4 July.

“After the election, Conservative MPs will need to work with a wider conservative movement to achieve their goals and Andrea is one of the best-placed genuine conservatives in her party to help facilitate this,” her team said.

Election 2024

Rishi Sunak, Sir Keir Starmer and other party leaders are on the campaign trail, and i‘s election live blog is the go-to place for everything on the general election.

On Monday, the Lib Dems launched their manifesto followed by the Tory manifesto launch on Tuesday, which included a further cut to national insurance. On Wednesday, the Green Party launched their manifesto, which they hope will secure them some important seats.

Labour has launched several policies ahead of the publication of its manifesto, but the full document is expected later this week.

i has urged the parties to commit to its Save Britain’s Rivers manifesto to improve our waterways. The Lib Dems became the first to back the campaign, followed by the Green Party.

Got a question for our politics experts? i’s Hugo Gye and Jane Merrick will be answering your questions live during the leaders’ debate later today. Submit your questions here.

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