Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are to embark on a final frantic 24 hours of campaigning as both teams insist the election remains closely fought and that polls giving the Conservatives a lead could be wrong.
Both Labour and the Conservatives have branded Thursday’s vote the “most important in a generation” as the two sides have vastly different plans for Brexit and spending on public services.
The prime minister was set to criss-cross the country from Yorkshire to the Midlands, Wales and London on Wednesday, sending out his core message that the Conservatives need only another 12 seats to win a majority.
Meanwhile, Corbyn will begin his day in Scotland and will visit at least five key seats in a whistle-stop tour across England, calling for those who are undecided to “vote for hope in this election”.
The Conservatives are leading by anywhere between six and 15 points according to the polls, which could mean anything from a comfortable majority for Johnson to a hung parliament.
Johnson spent Tuesday in Staffordshire attempting to recover from a disastrous day on Monday, when he refused to look at a photo of a sick boy lying on the floor of a hospital in Leeds and his advisers then wrongly briefed that an aide had been punched.
With polling stations due to open at 7am on Thursday, Corbyn will say it is time for people to vote for “a Labour government that will be on your side; a Labour government that will save our NHS”.
“It’s time for a pay rise for 12 million people, for lower fares and bills, and for free childcare,” he will say in a speech in Middlesbrough in the north-east on Wednesday.
“It’s time for pension justice for women born in the 1950s, and for free personal care for pensioners. And it’s time for everyone to have free education and decent jobs.
“We will put money in your pocket because you deserve it. The richest and big business will pay for it. We will save our NHS by giving it the money it needs, ending privatisation and by not selling it out to Trump.”
He will argue that Thursday’s choice is the “most important election in a generation”, in which people have the chance “to vote for a government for the many, not the few”.
Johnson, who will start his day on a milk-round in Yorkshire at 7am, said the Tories could not be complacent about being ahead in the polls and said the election remained “close-fought”.
Asked at a campaign event in a JCB factory in Staffordshire whether the general election was “in the bag”, the prime minister insisted “absolutely not”.
“This is a very close-fought election, and we need every vote,” he told his audience of factory workers at a carefully staged event. “The only mathematical alternative to a working majority for a Conservative government is the real, real risk of another hung parliament. That’s another five years of confusion, chaos, dither and delay. We cannot go down that route.”
In an attempt to emphasise his point, he drove a union jack-emblazoned bulldozer through a wall of polystyrene blocks in a stunt for the TV cameras.
He told JCB workers: “We’ve only got 48 hours to get this thing done. I want you now to reflect on the gravity of the choice we have before us. This is a momentous occasion for our country. I’ve never seen an election quite like it.”
Labour quickly countered with an edited version of the clip that made it look as if Johnson was tearing down the NHS.
The prime minister also sought to exploit comments by the shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, whose downbeat remarks about Labour’s chances were leaked by a “friend”.
“Jon Ashworth made absolutely clear that he thinks the reason Mr Corbyn is failing to persuade large numbers of people to vote for him is he is blocking Brexit, he won’t get Brexit done,” Johnson said. “He’s absolutely right.”
In an apparent bid to reach out to voters who supported remain in 2017, he said: “We want to respect the will of the people. We’re democrats. I mean, whether we’re leavers or remainers, whichever way we voted, we’ve come together and we want to get it done. We can; we’ve got a deal.”
Johnson was accompanied by the chancellor, Sajid Javid, at the first of several stage-managed appearances as the Tories sought to get their campaign back on track for the final 48 hours.
The prime minister was challenged on Monday over the photograph of a four-year-old boy, Jack Williment-Barr, sleeping on the floor of a Leeds hospital, and responded by pocketing the journalist’s phone. And his aides were later accused of lying about an incident outside the same hospital involving an aide to the health secretary, Matt Hancock.
Javid introduced the prime minister at JCB by warning that a Labour government would create an economic crisis by Christmas.
“Corbyn has a programme for government that is far left, that is the most anti-business, the most anti-enterprise, this country has ever seen. It will guarantee an economic crisis,” he said.
“Normally a Labour government takes a few years to leave a crisis,” he added. “With this lot, it won’t be years; it won’t be months; it won’t even be weeks; it will be days. There will be a crisis by Christmas.”
The departure of the Conservatives’ campaign battle bus from JCB was delayed because Extinction Rebellion protesters dressed as bees glued themselves to its windscreen – though Johnson himself left separately.
Both party leaders will end the day with rallies for supporters in London. Johnson has returned continually to the Tories’ “get Brexit done” slogan throughout the campaign, and he will make it number one of six final pledges to the electorate on Wednesday.
Others, all familiar from the past six weeks, include implementing a points-based immigration system, and increasing NHS funding.
The Lib Dem leader, Jo Swinson, will visit several target constituencies on Wednesday as she seeks to underline her party’s anti-Brexit message.