Jeremy Corbyn will seek to scorn Conservative attempts to portray themselves on the side of the people against the elite, kicking off his election campaign by promising to side with the public against a “corrupt system” run by those with vested interests.
On Thursday, the Labour leader will single out individuals, including the Sports Direct boss, Mike Ashley, the financier Crispin Odey and the media owner Rupert Murdoch, as examples of individuals Labour’s policies would target.
In an attempt to get onto the front foot before parliament is dissolved next week, Corbyn will stake out Labour’s ground in a battle that will help define the campaign.
“This election is a once-in-a-generation chance to transform our country, take on the vested interests holding people back and ensure that no community is left behind,” Corbyn will say.
Boris Johnson has repeatedly promised to pursue the “people’s priorities”, if he is handed a majority on 12 December, pitting himself on the side of voters, against an obstructionist parliament.
Labour strategists believe once Corbyn gets out on the campaign trail, it will be clear that he, not the Tory prime minister, is the anti-establishment candidate for change.
Johnson will highlight his own priorities in the campaign on Thursday as he visits a school, hospital and police unit, while vowing to get Brexit done – on the day the UK was meant to have come out of the EU.
Before the visits, he will claim not to have wanted an election but to have been forced into one by Labour’s decision to oppose his Brexit deal. “Today should have been the day that Brexit was delivered and we finally left the EU,” the PM will say.
“But, despite the great new deal I agreed with the EU, Jeremy Corbyn refused to allow that to happen – insisting upon more dither, more delay and more uncertainty for families and business … Now is the time to break the deadlock so we can move on as a country. The Conservatives will campaign for a parliament that gets Brexit done and delivers on the people’s priorities, including the NHS, education and crime.”
Corbyn will dismiss Johnson’s claims to represent the “people” at his campaign launch event in south London, where he will promise to take on “born-to-rule Conservatives,” who “protect the privileged few”.
Among his criticisms of high-profile businessmen, Corbyn will renew his war of words with the Sports Direct founder, asking: “Whose side are you on? The bad bosses like Mike Ashley, the billionaire who won’t pay his staff properly and is running Newcastle United into the ground? Or his exploited workforce, like the woman who was reportedly forced to give birth in a warehouse toilet because she was terrified of missing her shift?”
He will also take aim at “big polluters” such as Britain’s richest man Jim Ratcliffe, “greedy bankers” such as Odey and “billionaire media barons” such as Murdoch.
Labour has launched a funding drive, hoping to repeat its success in 2017 of raising millions of pounds through small, individual donations from members and supporters.
The Corbyn-supporting campaign group Momentum announced on Wednesday that it had raised £100,000 within 12 hours of the election being called – and Labour emailed supporters to say it had already taken in £400,000.
Momentum’s national coordinator, Laura Parker, said: “We’ve been completely blown away. This surge in donations shows the huge strength of our people-powered movement, and that if we all step up, chip in and get involved we can beat the Tories and their big corporate donors. I’m proud Momentum has no big corporate backers and that we’re powered by the donations of ordinary people who want real change across the country.”
Labour strategists insist they will fight an offensive campaign, pushing resources into the constituencies the party would have to win to put Corbyn in No 10. In 2017, Corbyn allies complained that cautious Ed Miliband-era officials constrained their ambition and devoted too much funding to defending potentially vulnerable seats. The party will also have to confront critical decisions about the content of the manifesto.
Grassroots campaign groups allied to Momentum are pushing for the inclusion of radical policies on issues including migration and the future of public schools, which were passed at Labour’s conference. A final decision would be taken by a meeting of party decision-makers, including trade union representatives and members of the ruling national executive committee (NEC), with some urging caution.
While the campaign is expected to focus on Brexit and the debate over funding of public services, the Conservatives will also attempt to link Labour to the possibility of another Scottish independence referendum. During his visits on Thursday, Johnson will again accuse Corbyn of wanting to tie up next year in the “toxic, tedious torpor of two more referendums” on both Brexit and Scotland.
Labour accused Johnson of “fantasy and fake news” for repeatedly suggesting Labour would hold two referendums in 2020 if Corbyn becomes prime minister.
While Corbyn’s spokesman repeatedly ruled out a new independence poll in the “formative years” of a Labour government, he made clear Corbyn would be prepared to give the green light to one later in the next parliament.
Corbyn and Johnson both rehearsed their campaign attack lines as they faced each other at PMQs on Wednesday for the final time before the 12 December general election.
Johnson accused the Labour leader of “consigning next year, which should be a wonderful year for our country, to two more referendums: another referendum on the EU because he cannot make up his mind what he thinks, flip-flopping this way and that; and another referendum on Scottish independence.” His spokesman later suggested Labour had struck a “backroom deal” with Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the Scottish National party (SNP).
A Labour spokesman said: “There is no such agreement. There is no commitment to such a referendum. Labour doesn’t support there being another Scottish independence referendum, and we’ve set out a very clear position that we would not agree to such a thing in the formative years of a Labour government – so I think we can put that claim down to fantasy and fake news.”
He added: “At the same time, if there was a request from the Scottish parliament and the Scottish government later on, we would not seek to block it.”
The clash over Scotland’s future came as Labour fires up its campaign machine for a bruising six weeks on the road. Corbyn will launch the party’s campaign on Thursday morning, and plans to criss-cross the country in a battle bus, as he did in 2017.
Labour has repeatedly said there will be no formal pacts or coalitions with the SNP. But some shadow cabinet ministers privately admit they are relaxed about the prospect of an agreement of some kind with Sturgeon’s party.
The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, and Corbyn have worked closely with each other in recent weeks, as the opposition parties have cooperated to block a no-deal Brexit.
The SNP seized on the comments. Pete Wishart, one of its MPs, said: “This election is only on day one, and the SNP’s argument for Scotland’s right to choose its own future is winning.”