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What will Labour’s campaign look like?

Despite the shock election announcement coming from the government, the opposition seems better prepared.

By Freddie Hayward

Four minutes into the Prime Minister’s speech on Downing Street yesterday, Keir Starmer tweeted a slick campaign video with a simple message: the Tories have failed; vote for change. It has now been viewed more than 1.2 million times. Within an hour, he delivered a clipped speech, flanked by Union flags conspicuously like the Downing Street briefing room. “[We’ve been ready] since March 16th,” one Labour aide texted me. “This is the best day,” a shadow cabinet minister beamed. Labour officials have been briefing for months the election would be announced before the summer; they were right. You would be forgiven for thinking that calling the election was in the Labour leader’s gift, so competent was the launch.

Compare that with the Prime Minister’s sodden plea for votes from a podium on Downing Street. The rain gathered on his ill-tailored suit like a puddle in a pothole. Rishi Sunak accomplished two things with his al fresco performance. He sacrificed the goodwill of the people he will need to go out and convince the public to vote for him: the activists, MPs and supporters who were embarrassed by the launch and annoyed their summer plans were dashed. Second, he portrayed himself as weak and out of control. That matters because his entire message was that voters should trust him to protect them in times of insecurity.

Labour’s pitch is the right one. You should be able to recite it by now: over 14 years the Conservatives have ruined this great country; we have a plan for a decade of national renewal, and here are the six steps we would take to achieve that.

What could go wrong? The lead Labour now enjoys is similar to Theresa May’s in 2017. She fluffed her chances to win a large majority over the course of the short campaign with chaotic, risky messaging and a charisma-proof performance. She also faced Jeremy Corbyn, a relatively unknown entity whose economic policies tapped into rampant anger towards austerity. His economic populism was the perfect contrast to the drab continuity that May represented. Sunak is not Corbyn – and I don’t mean that as a compliment.

Nonetheless, Labour’s 20-point lead in the polls does not mean that it is planning a defensive campaign. “We’re going to be really, really aggressive,” one aide told me. “They’ve got a huge price to pay for what they’ve done [to the country] and we’ll make them pay.” A few months ago, one staffer remembered when Morgan McSweeney, the party’s campaign chief, told colleagues the Tories don’t whine when things get tough and that “this is the campaign in which we have to learn to cry alone”.

That gritty determination will be what Keir Starmer wants to instil in his team. I’m told he addressed the shadow cabinet last night. There was also an all-staff call, and Labour advisers gathered at 10am this morning in parliament. There will be tweaks to the manifesto but the majority of it is finalised. Parliamentary staffers have already been seconded to HQ where they will join specific teams to help on the campaign. Shadow ministers will be despatched around the country.

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They won’t admit it, but this is Labour’s campaign to lose. The chaos of the Tories’ first day and the disunity and weariness that characterises their approach is a bad omen of what is to come. The craggy hill they have to climb gets more slippery with every gaffe that Sunak makes and every slick piece of stage management Labour’s strategists can muster. Labour won day one; 41 more to go.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; receive it every morning by subscribing on Substack here.

[See also: What Keir Starmer needs to tell Britain]

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