Britain will be run by a "coalition of chaos" if voters are tempted by a plan by Nicola Sturgeon for a “progressive alliance” of SNP, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, Theresa May has warned.
After securing Parliament’s backing for a June 8 election, the Prime Minister said the country faced a “clear choice”between “strong and stable” leadership under the Conservatives, or a coalition thrown together to “prop up” Jeremy Corbyn.
In her first stump speech of the campaign, Mrs May also appealed directly to the electorate as she asked them to “put their trust in me” and “give me the mandate to fight for Britain”.
With a 21-point lead over Labour in some polls, Mrs May is confident she can wipe out the 4,377 majority of the sitting MP David Crausby, and Labour sources have privately conceded that any of their MPs with a majority of less than 5,000 in a pro-Brexit constituency could be out.
Staring straight down the lens of a TV camera, Mrs May said: “It is only with the Conservatives that you get the strong and stable leadership that this country needs to see us through Brexit and beyond.
“Only we can give that plan for a stronger Britain, for a more secure future. But only you can give us the mandate. So vote for the strong and stable leadership this country needs. Give me the mandate to lead Britain. Give me the mandate to speak for Britain. Give me the mandate to fight for Britain, and give me the mandate to deliver for Britain.”
MPs supported Mrs May’s call for a snap election by 522 to 13, after the Prime Minister urged them to put their faith in the people.
She said: “I have made my choice to do something that runs through the veins of my party more than any other.
“It is a choice to trust the people...let us put forth our plans for the future of this great country, let us put our fate in the hands of the people; and then let the people decide.”
Mrs May’s election team, led by Sir Patrick McLoughlin, the party chairman, will meet today to draw up a list of target seats that could deliver a majority approaching 100 seats.
Party activists have been warned that complacency is the biggest threat to the Tories’ expected victory, which Ms Sturgeon will try to exploit in the weeks ahead.
Meeting SNP MPs in Westminster on Tuesday, she raised the prospect of an unofficial alliance of opposition parties - rather than a formal coalition - to defeat the Conservatives.
She said: “If the Parliamentary arithmetic lends itself to the SNP being part of a progressive alliance to keep the Tories out of Government, then the SNP will seek to be part of that, as we said in 2015.”
Mrs May was quick to seize on the comment, knowing that talk of a coalition between Ed Miliband’s Labour and Ms Sturgeon’s SNP helped sink Labour at the last general election.
Meanwhile Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, said there was “a real danger of Mr Corbyn and Ms Sturgeon cooking up a deal to suit both their purposes”.
Labour took almost seven hours to issue an official statement ruling out a coalition deal with the SNP or a progressive alliance, but the statement left open the possibility of an informal pact with opposition parties if the election results in a hung parliament.
The Liberal Democrats ruled out a Labour-LibDem coalition. Sir Vince Cable, who is fighting to regain his former Twickenham seat on June 8, said there was "no prospect" of an electoral deal with Labour under Mr Corbyn's leadership.
There was more bad news for Mr Corbyn when almost a quarter of his MPs failed to vote for an early election, with one citing the prospect of “massive” Labour losses in the election as their reason.
Six Labour MPs have now joined a growing exodus who are not going to step down from their seats, including Gisela Stuart, who had earlier suggested Mrs May was better equipped to deliver Brexit than Mr Corbyn.
Labour also came under attack over a potential tax bombshell dropped by the shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who hinted that he will raise income tax for anyone earning more than £70,000.
The Conservatives are expected to publish their manifesto in three weeks, in the week starting May 8. Tory MPs have been told to send in their artwork for their leaflets by today to ensure that they can be printed in time for the general election.
Last night Paul Ryan, a senior Republican Congressman and the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, praised Mrs May during a speech in London.
He told a debate organised by Policy Exchange: “Times like these call for bold leadership, and Theresa May is certainly setting the standard."