Exclusive: Theresa May's husband Philip is her "hidden power", Tory election chief reveals

Ben Riley-Smith
Sir Patrick McLoughlin  - Charlotte Graham / Guzelian

Sir Patrick McLoughlin is no Brenda from Bristol. When the latter told TV cameras what she thought about breaking news of a snap election - "You're joking? Not another one!” - she became an internet sensation. 

But the Tory party chairman, who is fighting his tenth campaign, has little time for the suggestion that the British public are weary after two general elections in three years. 

“I know this is a great myth at the moment,” Sir Patrick says as he discusses Brenda and the seven weeks ahead in his Derbyshire constituency office in Matlock. 

“The EU referendum had one of the highest turnouts we’ve had in electoral accountability in this country for many years.

“This is following on from that. I don’t think it’s asking too much to ask people to exercise the vote. It is so Britain can be in a stronger position.”

This time round, Sir Patrick has a more influential role than ever before. Elevated to party chairman after Theresa May took office last July, he is firmly in the election bunker. 

He will be co-running the campaign with Stephen Gilbert, a long-time Tory executive and recent peer, alongside a coterie of trusted Number 10 aides and election gurus. 

Sir Lynton Crosby, the man who masterminded the 2015 Tory majority, is advising once again – albeit not leading the campaign like last time. He is yet to move into Tory headquarters unlike other key figures. 

The Australian and his business partner Mark Textor will craft campaign messages and do polling, while Jim Messina - the man who helped deliver Barack Obama two US elections - is also back on board.

Despite criticism of the Prime Minister for abandoning her repeated promise not to call an early election, Sir Patrick says she had little choice because of Brexit. 

“Once the negotiations started, if we hadn’t sought a new mandate we would have been on a very tight timescale,” he warned. 

“I think that would have put all sorts of pressure on the Prime Minister and perhaps concluded with a deal which was not in the long-term best interests of the United Kingdom.”

The were fears EU leaders could have exploited the spectre of a 2020 general election - just months after Brexit is due to be delivered in mid-2019 - to gain concessions. 

Instead, he says, it is better to use the window of opportunity with Brexit talks in stasis as France and Germany go to the polls to strengthen the Prime Minister's hand. 

The party is altogether in a different place than when Sir Patrick, a former miner who refused to go on strike in 1984, joined Parliament two years later. 

A prolonged period of modernisation has allowed David Cameron and now Mrs May to claim - much to the derision of Labour - that the Tories are now “the party of working people”. 

But the rise of ‘blue-collar Conservatism’ is born out by the House of Commons, Sir Patrick says. “If some serious work is done on the political makeup of the Tory benches compared with the Labour benches, I think we are far more representative of the nation as a whole,” he says. 

“We’ve got ex-teachers, we’ve got ex-doctors, we’ve got people who’ve worked in the private sector as well as people in the public sector, we’ve got people who’ve worked in the Armed Forces.”

“I always love that story of Luke Hall [the MP for Yale and Thornbury in Gloucestershire]. He was knocking on the door and the chap said to him ‘I’ll vote Tory if you can tell me the price of a pint of milk’.

“So he told him the price of milk and he also told him the bar code. He was the manager of the local Lidl superstore.” It is unclear if the voter held up his side of the bargain.

Sir Patrick has known the Prime Minister for 20 years and believes her route up the party hierarchy gives her an affinity with  the Tory grassroots. 

He also singles out Philip May, her husband who has been by her side since Oxford University days, as a key confidant. It was him, after all, who was there walking with the Prime Minister in Snowdonia when she finally decided to got for a snap election. 

“The fascinating thing about Theresa May is that, of course, she started her political career off as a councillor,” Sir Patrick says. 

“She came up through the party in a way that was not dissimilar to the way I came up through the party, so I have great of admiration for her. 

 Sir Patrick McLoughlin, the Tory chairman Credit: Charlotte Graham/Guzelian

“You know, even now as Prime Minister she will still go out at weekends knocking on doors. She’s really got her feet on the ground, listening to her constituents and that of the country. 

“She’s at home doing that and so is Philip as well, which I think is one of the hidden powers [of her political career]. 

“I think Philip is amazing. He will turn up at central office and do telephone canvassing just with anybody else. 

“He’s been a constituency chairman. He’s done everything in the party and that is what I think a lot of people and party workers like.”

Turning to the Opposition, Sir Patrick is scathing of Jeremy Corbyn’s suitability for office, insisting he cannot be the “strong and stable” prime minister the country needs. 

The Labour leader’s anti-establishment pitch is also dismissed. “What I find rather odd is for Jeremy Corbyn to try and go around saying he’s against the political establishment bearing in mind he’s been a MP for 34 years,” he says. 

“If he’s not part of the Establishment then I don’t know where he’s been.” 

If Sir Patrick senses the Tories can win a historic majority, he keeps it hidden. Mr Corbyn really can win, he says, warning the party repeatedly against “taking this election for granted”. 

But the odds suggest differently. There are few punters who would bet that when the campaign finally ends, he won't be celebrating - something he does have in common with Brenda from Bristol. 

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