It’s still early in the general election campaign, but Labour needs a turning point. Last time, it was helpfully provided by Theresa May and her disastrous ‘dementia tax’. But the perception among journalists is that nothing can hurt ‘Teflon Boris’, which may well be a self-fulfilling prophecy – either way, neither interviews with Jennifer Arcuri nor assertions about Labour’s policy proposals that are repeatedly found to be lies have derailed the Tory campaign. Their manifesto could yet provide that crunch moment, but until then Jeremy Corbyn needs to emphasise the difference between Labour’s values and those of Boris Johnson.
What better represents that gap, and the slogan ‘people before privilege’, than Tory funding sources? John McDonnell is set to deliver a big speech this morning in which he will highlight the findings of Labour’s new report ‘In the pockets of the few’. “We know whose side Boris Johnson is on – the billionaires, the bankers and big business,” the Shadow Chancellor will say.
Labour reckons this is a good time to reignite the billionaire row that dominated the early days of the pre-election period, when Lloyd Russell-Moyle went viral for saying billionaires shouldn’t exist. Echoing those thoughts, McDonnell will argue that nobody “needs or deserves” to be a billionaire, calling it an “obscene” amount of money. He will link this value judgment to the Tories, who are “bankrolled by one in three UK billionaires”.
This row is a good way to fill the airwaves ahead of a potentially crucial head-to-head on TV tonight. (The Lib Dems and the SNP lost their High Court challenge over ITV’s decision to exclude them.) The Tory campaign has agreed to this debate because: a) they want to avoid the mistakes made by May in 2017; and b) they want to frame this election as a choice between Johnson and Corbyn. The weird thing is that Labour and the Tories actually seem to have a similar view of how the campaign is going: both think the campaign is being framed in a way that is favourable to them, and both think their candidate for PM will benefit from the debate.
We’ll see which team is right from 8pm. If PMQs and the CBI speeches are anything to go by, though, Johnson’s confusing bluster could leave viewers baffled while Corbyn’s more natural and relatable character could hit the right note. The Labour leader just needs to refine his answer on Brexit, which I think would benefit from explaining why exactly he doesn’t want to declare his EU referendum campaigning position just yet. Rather than give the impression that he is being indecisive and/or a typical professional politician avoiding tricky questions, Corbyn should explain that he wants to lead fresh negotiations with the EU in good faith – and make clear that this move shows real leadership, not a lack of it. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.