“A week is a long time in politics” – what does the general election campaign tell us so far?

The general election campaign has only been going for a week and yet it seems like a like a lifetime ago since Rishi Sunak stood in the pouring rain on the steps of number 10.

Everyone was caught on the hop with the announcement. Not least the Conservatives, where the Cabinet were only consulted after Sunak had asked the King to dissolve Parliament.

Since then, we’ve seen three distinct campaigns taking shape.

The first is Labour’s “steady as she goes” change campaign that says Keir Starmer has changed Labour and that he can change the country. This is backed up by the Shadow Chancellor’s, Rachel Reeves, argument that stability requires change.

The Party has been campaign ready since Christmas – with battle buses at the ready and the Shadow Cabinet fanning out across the country determined to say as little as possible. Their focus has instead been on their “get out the vote” strategy in the same battleground seats that saw success in the local elections.

This has led to some criticism that Labour is “policy-lite” – with the Conservatives hammering home the message that Labour don’t have a plan, using the flurry of policy announcements from Sunak to bolster their campaign and capture the attention of Nigel Farage sympathisers.

In fact, the six steps Labour announced recently all come with fully costed detailed plans relating to Starmer’s five missions. Labour’s first policy intervention around health went into some detail about how the independent sector would be utilised to deliver 40,000 appointments a week to reduce NHS waiting times.

The problem for Shadow Health Secretary, Wes Streeting, was that his announcement was overshadowed by a leak to the press about Diane Abbot’s suspension and the involvement of the leader’s office in stopping her from standing as an MP. This is becoming an issue for Labour as the media will gleefully allow this story to dominate the headlines until it is cauterised. One way or the other.

The second campaign has been Rishi Sunak’s “move fast and break things” approach. He has criss-crossed the country putting himself at the centre of the campaign. The problem for him is that MPs and even ministers are failing to get behind him and a leaked internal memo criticising MPs didn’t help. Steve Baker, for example, Minister for Northern Ireland opted to campaign from a beach in Greece while Lucy Allen, MP for Telford, has been thrown out the party for supporting the Reform candidate.

However, the campaign focus is on the emergence of almost daily announcements on issues likely to strike a chord with Reform-minded voters and designed to accuse Labour of something they haven’t said. These include compulsory national service for 18-year-olds, cancelling unpopular degree courses to pay for apprenticeships and reversing tax decisions on pensions to remove the thresholds for those on a state pension. With some chutzpah the Conservatives then accuse Labour of being weak on defence, scrapping apprenticeship and introducing a ‘tax on retirement’ despite Labour having made no previous comment on them.

The third campaign is that of the small parties. Both the Lib Dems and SNP to a lesser extent as the main party in Scotland are struggling to get cut through. To the extent that Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat leader, resorted to chucking himself into the water on Lake Windemere to secure some column inches in his campaign against sewage which is he main message they are taking to their target seats.

The SNP face a difficult challenge having changed their leader for the third time, following the former SNP Chief Executive and Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, being charged by Police Scotland with fraud. While independence remains a salient issue for the Scottish Parliament Anas Sarwar’s 10-point lead over John Swinney suggests that voters in Scotland are prioritising getting the Tories out before the constitutional debate.

While it is early days in the election campaign it still seems certain that there will be a Labour victory at the polls. The question remains what the swing will be and what sort of majority will Keir Starmer get. Currently he requires a swing of over 12% for a majority. A feat which has not happened since Clement Atlee won in 1945 and Tony Blair in his pomp only achieved a swing of just over 10%.

Whitehouse’s Labour Engagement Forum will be analysing the twists and turns of the election and hosting events which will look at how a Labour government is likely to approach key issue around the economy and public services in the second half of this year.

If you’d like to find out more, get in touch with Max Wilson, our Public Affairs Director (max.wilson@whitehousecomms.com)