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29 October 2019

Jeremy Corbyn’s strategy? Reminding Leave voters that Boris Johnson is posh

The Labour leader’s first statement of the general election campaign strikes uncannily similar notes to his 2017 pitch.

By Patrick Maguire

The many versus the privileged few; a radical agenda for “real change”; a country “held back” by vested interests: the big themes of Labour’s 2019 general election campaign will, to a large extent, be identical to the messages that Jeremy Corbyn’s closest allies believe powered its surge in 2017. 

The Labour leader’s first rhetorical salvo of the campaign, launched just after the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly for a snap poll on 12 December, reads uncannily like a statement from his last general election campaign:

“This election is a once-in-a-generation chance to transform our country and take on the vested interests holding people back. 

“The choice at this election could not be clearer. A Labour government will be on your side, while Boris Johnson’s Conservatives – who think they’re born to rule – will only look after the privileged few. 

“We will now launch the most ambitious and radical campaign for real change that our country has ever seen. This is our chance to build a country for the many not the few and fit for the next generation.”

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Brexit, of course, is conspicuous by its absence: the Labour leadership’s hope has always been that Boris Johnson will be unable to make the election the de facto second referendum he has staked his premiership on, and that the electorate will instead vote on domestic issues. It’s on that ground that Corbyn and his allies feel most confident. “Real change” is likely to be Labour’s main campaign slogan for that very reason.

They also believe that Johnson’s appeal to Labour Leave constituencies in the English North and Midlands is not as strong as Conservative strategists hope. That’s why Corbyn’s first statement of the campaign strikes the same notes as his conference speech hit last month.

Again and again, Corbyn described Johnson and the Tories in stereotypical terms: privileged, born-to-rule, wealthy. Polling consistently shows that the Brexit-backing Labour voters who Johnson believes will give him a majority feel a stronger aversion to the Conservatives than an attachment to Brexit. 

The Labour leadership will hope that reminding voters in those seats that Johnson is a posh Tory, like any other, will be enough to check the sweeping advances that many in Westminster are already taking for granted.

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