Extensive vetting and a battle bus: Labor ready to start election campaign | General elections 2024

For Rishi Sunak, one of the advantages of calling a summer election was the idea of ​​catching Labor off guard.

When the Prime Minister announced he would be coming to the country on July 4, it took almost everyone – Labor and Conservative – by surprise. The Labor Party had just relaxed its restrictions on staff members taking holiday over the coming weeks, as the prospect of an election before the autumn appeared to fade.

But behind the scenes, the party had been putting plans in place for the prospect of an early election for several months, including lining up candidates in key seats, drawing up its manifesto and testing campaign messages. He also released Keir Starmer’s top six promises (his first steps) last week.

It meant Starmer was ready to launch his campaign slogan hours after the election was called on Wednesday night, a single word his strategists believe captures the country’s mood: “Change.”

“The message is change: it’s time to turn the page on 14 years of conservative chaos,” said a senior party source. “Last week we launched our ‘first steps’ and that will be something we take across the country… We’ve always said we were ready for the election as soon as it came.”

The Labor Party, like the Conservative Party, is now struggling to select candidates in between 80 and 100 seats, some of which it is predicted to win if it maintains its lead in the polls.

This raised concerns that some candidates would be selected without proper vetting. But Labor insiders said the preselection process was completed in January by the party’s national executive committee (NEC), after an intensified vetting process following the Rochdale by-election.

In February, the Labor Party had to withdraw support for its Rochdale candidate, Azhar Ali, after a recording of comments he had made about Israel and the Jewish people was leaked.

“The regional directors of each region know who their candidates are. Each of them will be announced at the end of the week,” said a Labor source involved in the selection process.

“They have all had very thorough due diligence – incredibly thorough searches of everything they have said or done. “Rochdale has forced us to focus a lot on making sure candidates don’t have skeletons in their closets.”

There are also a small number of target Labor seats and safe seats where current MPs have announced they will retire and where the party will elect candidates. These decisions will be made by the CNE, which has the power to make quick selections during electoral campaigns.

Among the seats still missing a candidate is Islington North, where Jeremy Corbyn is preparing to stand as an independent. Labor will also have to make a decision on whether Diane Abbott, who has been suspended for more than a year, will be allowed to stand as the party’s candidate in Hackney North and Stoke Newington.

Jeremy Corbyn takes a photo as he joins people taking part in a pro-Palestine march in central London in March. Photograph: Jordan Pettitt/PA

The Labor party will hold a series of crucial meetings over the next 48 hours with MPs and staff to discuss its election plan. On Thursday and Friday, Labor staff were assigned to remain at their south London headquarters or join campaign buses and regional teams. “They’ll basically fill headquarters until people are piled on top of each other and the rest will hit the road,” one aide said.

Starmer is gathering his shadow cabinet for a meeting on Friday afternoon. Labor MPs who are political leaders in their regions were due to hold a meeting on Thursday night to discuss campaign plans.

The Labor Party has rented its battle bus but kept it secret in a garage. Angela Rayner, the deputy leader, plans to spend much of the six-week election campaign traveling around the country.

Labor insiders suggested the bus had already been painted red but did not yet have the party’s election slogan when the date was called. Until Wednesday, Labor had been using the slogan “Let’s take back Britain’s future”, but this was simplified after some critics suggested internally it was too confusing.

During the campaign, Rayner is expected to make stops in dozens of marginal constituencies as he takes the fight to the Conservatives. Starmer will join her for specific events.

The bus is said to be a luxury coach with an area in the back for campaign meetings and media interviews, which acts as a temporary broadcast studio. Labor experts did not confirm suggestions that it could be used for karaoke.

Launching his campaign in Gillingham, Kent, on Thursday morning, Starmer presented the election as a vote between “two different countries, two different futures” for the UK.

He told his supporters: “This election is about one choice: two different countries, two different futures. Decline and chaos continues under the Conservative government, or the rebuilding of our country under the Labor government. The power of the vote is with you. “If you want change, you have to vote for it.”

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