The Labour Party campaign launch in Thurrock

Jackie Price Doyle is the MP for Thurrock. She’s sitting on top of an 11,000 majority which, in previous years, would have been more than enough for the constituency to be considered a safe seat.

After the Tories lost control of the council to Labour on May 2nd it won’t have done her nerves any good to see Keir Starmer and the Shadow Cabinet roll into the constituency astride their glistening election machine to launch Labour’s general election campaign – with a pitch targeted directly between the eyes of voters in leave voting areas like Thurrock.

With echoes of Tony Blair’s pledge card in 1997 Starmer gave us Labour’s first ‘six steps’ to change which he called a ‘downpayment’ on the work required over two terms to fix the parlous state of the nation.

The six pledges – to deliver economic stability, to cut NHS waiting times, the launch of a Border Security Command, crackdown on anti-social behaviour and recruit 6,500 new teachers – are designed to speak to, and reassure, those who voted Conservative, perhaps for the first time, in 2019.  Criticised in some quarters as not being radical enough, and even boring, they are the continuation of the strategy which provided spectacular results in the local elections, delivering all but one of the mayoral elections and winning councils such as Nuneaton and Hartlepool in the Midlands and North East and Basildon and Thurrock in Essex. These are all areas that voted heavily to leave and who switched to the Conservatives under Boris Johnson and will be crucial if Labour are to win.

Remember Labour requires a swing 12% if it is to win a majority which is more than the 10.2% achieved by New Labour at its peak or even by Atlee after the Second World War. Moreover, the swing needs to be uniform across the country rather than piling up huge majorities in cities and university towns where Labour already have MPs.

Like New Labour before them Starmer’s Labour has allowed itself to be constrained by Conservative spending plans and is under promising to reassure voters there won’t be any surprises should he be elected. Unlike 1997, however, the sheer scale of the economic, social and structural problems facing Labour seem insurmountable, whether its housing, transport, NHS waiting times, the water companies, price rises or the tax burden, an incoming Labour government will have a mountain to climb. And that’s why Starmer is dampening expectations about what can be achieved overnight. Effectively, he’s making a pitch for two terms in office to fix the problem acutely aware of the electoral feat required to get a majority of just one.

The local election campaign showed the effectiveness and efficiency of Labour’s get out the vote campaign in places where they need Tory votes to win. Accepting Natalie Elphicke defecting from the Tories, while left wing stalwarts like Diane Abbot and Jeremy Corbyn are denied the whip, shows how ruthless Starmer is prepared to be in ditching policies and people who are popular on the left and endorsing MP switchers from the outer rim of the right of the Conservative Party.

With both Starmer and Sunak setting out their election stalls last week the starting gun for the election has now been fired and it looks like we’re in for a long hot summer.