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Why are the Conservatives the only party not to have launched a European election campaign?

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Angus Walker

If the recent local elections were an opportunity to give the two largest political parties a kick in the ballots, then the European elections are expected to be much, much more eye watering for Labour and the Conservatives.

There's some evidence of a despondent sense of doom spreading through the Tory party.

They know there are many voters who were told by Theresa May that the UK would leave the EU on March 29, 2019, who now feel they’ve been let down, badly.

Councillor Barry Lewis, leader of the Conservative group on Derbyshire County Council is so disillusioned he’s "gone on strike", as he puts it.

He and his fellow Tory Councillors will not be pounding the pavements to shove leaflets through letterboxes.

They won’t be knocking on doors. They’re not going to take part.

A tough decision for Barry, a life-long Conservative, who’s campaigned in every election since he was a teenager - until now.

He believes so many voters are angry and feel let down by his party's handling of Brexit that by going on strike he's showing them a sense of solidarity.

"We have to do something, the Government and the prime minister, in particular, is just not listening to grassroots members or the general public at all."

I asked him what he would say to those within the party who are out there campaigning, and who might accuse him of letting the side down, of standing by while Conservative candidates need all the help they can get.

"I wish them well we've made our position on this matter, we've made it clear why we are doing this and we're sticking to that. I'm sorry, it's unfortunate and all of that but we've got to do what we've got to do."

Barry Lewis is not alone. ITV News has also seen a copy of an email sent by senior members of a Conservative Association in Essex urging members to boycott these elections.

Such is the anger over Brexit, the Tory leadership is dealing with pockets of mutiny.

The UK is set to take part in the elections on May 23. Credit: PA

Alec Shelbrooke MP, vice chairman of the party, plays down cases of Conservative members "going on strike". He says it's been "widely over reported" and insists the party is a broad church with everyone from Eurosceptic MP Bill Cash to Pro-European MP Ken Clarke inside it.

When I repeatedly asked Alec Shelbrooke when the date of the official Conservative European Election launch would be he couldn't specify a date, but said: "We're always campaigning."

To be fair, many Conservatives are out campaigning.

In Reading, we met up with activists out on the streets drumming up support. They didn't always get a warm welcome on the doorstep.

With our cameras rolling one voter told the local Conservative campaigners "I'm so disgusted with the way the last three years have gone and that's with all the three main parties."

A neighbour told the canvassers they would vote Lib Dem, others said they'd be abstaining.

A voter in Reading telling canvassers they would vote for the Liberal Democrats in the European Elections. Credit: ITV News

It's always been difficult for parties in power, they're always prepared for a protest vote but usually they are running a full-on campaign.

For any party, not pouring all available resources into a campaign risks bad results.

With no official Conservative launch yet scheduled, and with only nine days to go until polling day, other parties are hoping to tempt Tories to switch support.

A recent poll suggests 53% of those who voted Conservative in 2017 are now saying they'll vote for the Brexit party.

Nigel Farage's new venture went from launch to leading the opinion polls in about a week.

Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage is back in front line politics with his new Brexit Party. Credit: PA

Out with Brexit Party activists this week, of seven doors knocked on and opened, five of the people they spoke to said they would back the Brexit Party.

One of those was Adele Doxey, who told me she's voted for Labour and the Conservatives in the past and backed remain in the referendum. Now she finds herself saying she's backing the Brexit Party. For her it's simply a case of democracy being honoured.

The Conservatives face a tough battle in these European elections, not launching a campaign is unlikely to help their prospects.

From what I've seen and heard on the doorsteps this week, there's also a lot of voter volatility.

For many, this will be the chance to deliver their verdict on Brexit in the elections that were never meant to happen, to elect MEPs who may never take their seats.

With public patience severely tested, that verdict could be brutal, for all politicians.