Her visit to the Copeland by-election campaign was seen by some as a signal that the Tories were confident of pulling off a shock victory over Labour.But things didn’t go according to plan for Theresa May, as a photocall at a primary school showed the Prime Minister pulling a face in an unflattering grimace.
But that wasn’t all. Later the Prime Minister found herself having to dodge questions on the issue she probably wanted to avoid: Labour’s accusations of Tory cuts in funding for the local hospital.
The PM’s grimace came at Captain Shaw’s CE Primary School in Bootle, Cumbria, as pupils showed off an award-winning robot made for a Lego competition. One of the girls enthusiastically told Mrs May the robot was to prevent “turtles getting run over and falling down drains” and to try to get them back into the sea.
But the Prime Minister appeared to look unimpressed and gave the sort of look she’d probably have given her chief whip if the Government had lost a Commons vote on the Article 50 Bill.
Minutes later, a TV interview proved just as awkward for the PM, as four times she appeared to duck repeated questions about the closure of maternity services at the West Cumberland Hospital.
Visibly squirming at questions which were solely on Labour’s big campaign issue, the NHS, she conceded that Conservative candidate Trudy Harrison was opposed to the “downgrading of these services”.
“What is important is that Trudy Harrison is a candidate who has made clear her views not just to me but to health ministers, but she is also somebody who has a track record of delivering for local people,” said the PM.
Then she continued: “There has been a lot of scaremongering about hospital services in the NHS here by the Labour Party. There is no truth in the suggestion that A&E at West Cumberland Hospital is about to close.
“They have been misleading in their representation of what I have said about maternity services at West Cumberland Hospital.” No word, however, about Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition in the past to nuclear power, the biggest employer in the Copeland constituency, which has been at the forefront of the Tories’ campaign.
Or, indeed, the fact that Mr Corbyn’s unpopularity with voters has meant his visits to Copeland to support Labour’s candidate Gillian Troughton have been few and far between.
Not that the Prime Minister met any real voters in Copeland. Her visit consisted of just one none-too-successful photo-call and an interview which she allowed to be all about Labour’s agenda, the NHS.
If, after her brief visit, a member of her inner circle had asked her if the 700-mile round trip had been worth it, she might have been forgiven for another grimace.
Michael Guest – Independent; Rebecca Hanson – Liberal Democrats; Trudy Harrison – Conservatives; Roy Ivinson – Independent; Jack Lenox – Green Party; Fiona Mills – UKIP; Gillian Troughton – Labour.