The April memo, which is said to have been authored just days before May announced the shock poll, warned voters did not want an election while the UK was in a period of uncertainty after the Brexit vote.
The leaked document, entitled “Election Strategic Note – April 2017” and obtained by the Mail on Sunday, said May’s 20-point lead in the opinion polls meant there would be “exceptionally high expectations” about the election result that would follow but also would lull voters into believing they did not need to vote tactically.
Crosby’s memo, which drew on focus group research and national polling, said there was “clearly a lot of risk involved with holding an early election, and there is a real need to nail down the ‘why’ for doing so now”.
It said there was a risk the poll would not result in a landslide for May but one “broadly similar” to David Cameron’s narrow victory in 2015.
The final result was even worse for the Conservatives than predicted, a hung parliament with May reliant on a confidence-and-supply deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party.
The British public “are actively seeking to avoid uncertainty and maintain the status quo and yet by calling an election the Conservatives are the ones who are creating uncertainty”, the memo reads.
Polls showing Labour trailing were also likely to mean that the party’s traditional voters, sceptical of the Labour leader, felt more confident they could vote for a local Labour candidate “while still remaining secure in the knowledge that Jeremy Corbyn will not be PM”, the memo goes on.
May used a trip to Japan over the past week to attempt to reassert her authority after the damaging gamble, saying she would serve a full five-year term through the Brexit negotiations and would lead the party into the next general election. She told reporters she was “not a quitter”.
Cabinet colleagues have publicly given May cautious – but caveated – support. On Sunday, David Davis, the Brexit secretary, told the BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show that May was a “great prime minister” running the country. But he stopped short of giving her an endorsement to lead the party into the next election.
Asked “did your heart lift” when May said she would stay on, Davis said: “I have served her for the last 12 months, I have been never anything less than impressed with the way she runs the country.
“That’s what matters to the people, not the politics, running the country and she has done a good job.”
Greg Hands, a trade minister, also sounded a more cautious note, saying the prime minister was doing a “fantastic job” but adding that five years was a long time in politics.
“It’s a very, very big job at the moment, a lot going on domestically, the Brexit negotiations,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics. “She is doing a good job and has got my complete confidence.”
This article was written by Jessica Elgot Political reporter, for theguardian.com on Sunday 3rd September 2017 12.54 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010