Theresa May has fuelled accusations from Labour she has been “hiding from the public” during the general election campaign after she held her latest rally in a tiny community hall in Aberdeenshire with such poor phone reception that live coverage of the event was impossible.
About 200 Conservative campaigners crammed into Crathes hall, Banchory, a tin-roofed single-storey building at the heart of a swath of woodland in rural north-east Scotland, from where journalists were unable to tweet or broadcast.
The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, was quick to make political capital of the event on Twitter:
Been out all day on the campaign trail in Mansfield. Can someone please explain to me why our Prime Minister is hiding in a forest? https://t.co/Yj5bscvn6x— John McDonnell MP (@johnmcdonnellMP) April 29, 2017
The prime minister has come under fire in recent days for supposedly dodging any chance of unscripted encounters with members of the public.
After she delivered a speech in a community centre in Leeds to a select group of supporters rather than the users of the building on Friday, Jeremy Corbyn accused her of hiding from the public.
“She won’t take part in TV debates and she won’t talk to voters,” Corbyn said. “Refusing to debate Labour in this election isn’t a sign of strength, it’s a sign of weakness. What is she afraid of? Voters deserve to know what political parties are offering.”
When journalists were eventually able to report on May’s speech it emerged she had told her supporters that she was the only leader capable of providing “strong and stable leadership” for Britain as the country headed towards Brexit.
“At this election, people will have a clear choice between five years of strong and stable leadership with me and my team or a coalition of chaos led by Jeremy Corbyn,” she said. “That’s what’s on offer of course, if you look at the other parties, they’re lining up to prop up Jeremy Corbyn. We see it from the Liberal Democrats and we see it from Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish Nationalists.”
Aberdeenshire was one of the most strongly pro-union regions of Scotland in the independence referendum with a yes vote of more than 60%.
Reminding her supporters of the potential of another independence vote in the near future, she said: “There is only one party that is committed to the union. There is only one candidate for prime minister who will stand up to defend the United Kingdom.”
May said she would strengthen the union by “standing up against the separatists who want to break up our country”.
Asking voters in Scotland to back her vision for a post-Brexit Britain she said: “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.
“My message to the people of Scotland is clear: every vote for me and my team will strengthen my hand in the Brexit negotiations. That will strengthen the union, strengthen the economy, and the UK and Scotland together will flourish because if Scotland is flourishing the rest of the United Kingdom is flourishing too.”
A Conservative source said May also did door-knocking and visited a business for a roundtable in Aberdeenshire, and campaigned in Maidenhead where she met voters on the high street. “The PM has visited cities, large and small towns and today she visited a rural community,” the source said.
“She has been in the three nations of Great Britain since the start of the campaign. In contrast Corbyn today ventured all of two miles from his own house to give a speech about himself.”