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Labour Strategists Are Already Writing "Story" For First Months In Power

Labour leader Keir Starmer (Alamy)

4 min read

Senior Labour figures have spent recent weeks devising a "story" to tell the public during what could turn out to be a tricky first few months in government if, as expected, they win the general election on 4 July.

Should Keir Starmer now become Prime Minister in as little as six weeks' time, the party will take comfort in the fact that work had already quietly begun to devise the messages Labour will deploy as soon as they step into Downing Street. A source familiar with the project described the proposed approach as "campaigning in Government".

At the start of this week, the majority of MPs arrived in Westminster expecting a fairly normal few days before the two-week, Whitsun recess. One last Prime Minister's Questions until June. Some new economic data for Rishi Sunak to talk about in the hope that the country will listen. And more opinion polls that suggest the public is largely taking no notice of the Prime Minister's optimistic claims. As things stand, Labour's average lead over the Tories is 21 per cent, according to the Sky tracker.

While a summer election has never been entirely off the table, most MPs didn't expect that by the end of this week they would be clearing their parliamentary offices and trudging back to their constituencies for six weeks of campaigning. But on Wednesday, Sunak took the political gamble of his life and gave a statement calling a 4 July general election, with the rain battering down on him and D:Ream's Things Can Only Get Better – an anthem synonymous with Labour's 1997 landslide – blaring from a protester's speaker beyond the gate at the end of Downing Street. 

It was a gamble that many felt the famously indecisive Prime Minister didn't have in him, and that has forced all political parties into a rush to find hundreds of candidates and fire up their campaign machines.

Knowing that an election would be called this year no matter when Sunak wanted to take the plunge, Labour Party figures had already spent weeks getting ready for power.

This partly takes the form of formal access talks with the civil service where in the period before an election is due, the opposition party's leader, shadow cabinet ministers and other key party figures meet with senior Whitehall officials to discuss a potential transition to Government, regardless of their chances of winning. These talks commenced at the start of this year, and were into their second round when the Prime Minister made his surprise election announcement.

PoliticsHome understands that in addition to these official talks, senior Labour figures have also been drawing up key messages to the nation that they believe will be important if the party makes it through what could be a very challenging first few months in office. One source who is familiar with the plans said they were putting together a "story" to tell the electorate in the early days of a Labour government.

One key thread will be hammering home the claim that any problems or crises that arise in the first months under Starmer can be blamed on 14 years of Tory rule, and that the new Labour government is cleaning up messes that are not of their making. 

This line could become particularly important if any of the potential calamities identified by Starmer's Chief of Staff Sue Gray materialise. Described as "Sue's shit list" by a Labour official quoted in the Financial Times, it sets out crises which threaten to derail Starmer during the infancy of his administration, and include the collapse of Thames Water, universities going bankrupt, and the stretched prison estate running out of space, according to the newspaper.

When David Cameron, the current foreign secretary, became Conservative prime minister 14 years ago, his relentless attacks on what he described as the ruinous state of the economy inherited from Labour proved to be very effective — so much so that it endured for many years after he and the then-chancellor George Osborne entered office in 2010.

If elected, Labour also plans from Day One to clearly communicate its plan for the country and how the decisions it takes in the first few months of power will help Starmer achieve his long-term goals. This is considered very important, as while Labour could be elected with a sizeable majority, recent polling suggests significant levels of public scepticism about whether the party will actually be able to improve the state of the country.

YouGov research published on Thursday found that 34 per cent of people felt Labour best represents "change", while just 10 per cent said it applies to the Tories. However, the most popular response to the question was "neither" (43 per cent) — which suggests Labour could enter Government against a backdrop of significant public pessimism, or at best, indifference.

With the election campaign just days old, and recent elections showing that a party's fortunes can turn very quickly, Labour MPs and officials stress that victory is far from guaranteed. But if the party is elected for the first time since 2005, Starmer's plan of action is ready to go. 

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