Every morning, at 6.30, Labour’s most senior officials gather at party HQ in Southwark to run through the day ahead. Keir Starmer, who is usually on the road, will dial in if he can. The meeting is chaired by Pat McFadden, the Labour leader’s campaign coordinator, though Morgan McSweeney, Starmer’s most important aide, is ever present. The pair are de facto co-chairs on any matter of importance, often found huddled together away from the pack. This is when all of the most important decisions are taken: where the strategy for the day ahead is debated, the party’s pre-planned messages challenged, rebuttals agreed. The toolmaker’s son is taking no chances.

Afterwards, Starmer and an even smaller coterie speak over the phone to make sure everyone is on the same page. Rachel Reeves, Angela Rayner, Bridget Philipson, David Lammy, Jonathan Reynolds and Wes Streeting are briefed — the core of the most working class cabinet to run Britain since at least the Seventies, and not coincidentally the first to target private schools as its signature policy. Class remains the great, unspoken frame of this election: the knight of the realm with a chip on his shoulder against the second generation child of immigrant doctors fighting a losing battle against the sense that he is simply too rich to understand modern Britain. The UK is not the classless land that Blair prophesised, but that is about as close to British egalitarianism as you can get.

By 9am, all the major decisions at Labour HQ are settled. The rest of the day is implementation. Come 11pm, many of the same figures are still there, preparing to head home for another fitful night’s sleep — only to do it all again the next day. This, then, is the grinding routine of a general election campaign, an unrelenting six-week sprint for power. When I asked one Labour aide how he was feeling this week, he simply replied: “Fucked.” They rarely see their families. McSweeney’s wife is hundreds of miles away, fighting for a seat near Glasgow. Starmer’s children are in school.

But so far, the effort seems to be paying off. Almost all polls put the party on course for a landslide that would make Tony Blair’s majority in 1997 look marginal,  even if Labour is now only on 37%, less than Jeremy Corbyn won in 2017, and neck and neck with the SNP in Scotland. Still, this is the brutal efficiency of first past the post. Such is the projected scale of victory, in fact, that the Conservative Party has even started warning about a potential supermajority, while some analysts have suggested that there is an actual chance that the Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey could become leader of the opposition.

“Class remains the great, unspoken frame of this election.”

Starmer’s critics say the campaign might be hard work, but it doesn’t seem to be doing much — offering voters little, in the hope that hatred of the Tories will be enough. But such a defensive strategy exposes Labour to the charge that it does not have a plan for government, allowing the Conservatives to fill in the blanks over the final few weeks of the campaign — particularly by hyping up the prospect of tax rises to come. This, according to senior Tories, will certainly be their strategy.

Though the manifesto was criticised for saying nothing new, some analysts argued that it gave Starmer a mandate for a “quietly bold” agenda on climate, with more onshore and offshore wind, solar and an end to gas and oil. There is some truth to this, though in reality much of it only builds on what is already under way under the Conservatives. Others tried to argue that the Labour manifesto was potentially as radical as Labour’s in 1945. This is a harder sell. In the depths of post-war austerity and indebtedness, Clement Attlee built the NHS. Today, Starmer is maintaining Tory spending plans.

Yet, to those close to Starmer, the obvious counter is quite simple: look at the polls. The idea at the heart of Labour’s campaign, as it was explained to me, is to establish in the public mind that this six-week period is not something distinct that must be “won”, requiring new tactics and policies and style, but is the culmination of a four-year campaign to persuade the public that they can do better in government than the Tories. A cynic might point out this is not exactly a hard sell. Still, to unveil a whole series of policies — or to even pull one or two “rabbits out of the hat” — would only undermine that overall strategy.

The whole point of Labour’s campaign, as implied by their manifesto, is that the Tories are in a state of constant chaos and so, they believe, their best strategy is to show the exact opposite. “Stability is change”, as Rachel Reeves puts it. Besides, look what happened to Theresa May in 2017 when, as Labour sees it, she took her victory for granted and threw it all away with an ill-thought-through policy designed to be bold: the “dementia tax”. Labour’s unspectacular manifesto launch revealed Starmer’s iron determination to avoid this fate.

Starmer has also displayed an iron determination to manage the revolt on his party’s Left, from politicians such as Diane Abbott and Faiza Shaheen, the rising Corbynista pin-up who hoped to stand for the party in Chingford only to discover at the last minute that she had been blocked for a series of tweets.

There is a visceral hostility felt towards Starmer from this wing of his party. I experienced some of it first-hand at the South Chingford Congregational Church Hall, where I listened as Shaheen’s campaign manager, Mick Moore, whipped up the crowd by raging against the “robots” who have taken over the Labour party and bullied his candidate out of standing for the party. Shaheen, herself, then stood up to fulminate against Labour’s safety-first incrementalism. “For them, politics is about changing the language a little bit and just getting enough to win power,” she declared. “They expect us to blindly tick the red or blue box and it disgusts me.”

Shaheen’s supporters were even angrier. “The Labour party has been hijacked by a gang of liars and crooks,” declared one we met outside. Another, Jeremy Corbyn’s former aide and close ally, Andrew Murray — who now works for the Morning Star — told me Shaheen had been taken out in a “factional drive-by shooting” which would come back to haunt the leadership. “It is an act of gross stupidity.”

With under three weeks to go, however, the Labour campaign could be described as many things, but not stupid. The Tories are continuing to slump after a campaign characterised by some of the most abject prime ministerial blunders imaginable. Meanwhile, the revelation that one of Sunak’s closest parliamentary aides placed a bet on an early election just days before his boss stepped out into the rain in Downing Street has revealed the fatal loss of discipline and seriousness within the party. The Tories simply no longer look like a serious party of government.

Labour MPs, meanwhile, who have grown used to losing elections, can hardly believe it. One told me he remained convinced the Tory vote would rally, but only because he felt that was what should happen. And then came Sunak’s D-Day disaster, provoking “absolute visceral anger”, according to this Labour member of the shadow cabinet. By the end of the week, this same figure told me, almost disbelievingly, there was still no sign of the Tory rally. And yet still he waits, convinced it is coming. It has to — surely?

In contrast, Starmer has shown some new confidence this week. One arch Labour sceptic told me his performance on the Sky News leaders debate on Wednesday, followed by his handling of the manifesto launch, had been a pleasant surprise. The Labour Party’s internal focus groups, conducted by Deborah Mattinson during the debate, were genuinely good, reviving the campaign’s flagging organisers. There is now a genuine belief — perhaps for the first time — that the polls might actually be real; that they might be on the verge of something extraordinary.

While also showing the first signs of confidence, Starmer also showed the first signs of tetchiness during this week’s Sky News “debate” — and once again the issue was class. Starmer’s flash of anger came after the audience groaned when he mentioned — again — that his dad was a tool maker. The Labour leader afterwards explained that he felt protective of his father who had been embarrassed about being a factory worker. Starmer, I’m told, still feels this acutely, and is more animated by questions of class disrespect than anything else. The fact he grew up in a small town in Surrey — Oxted — where the rich and poor lived and studied side by side means that he feels these small class snobberies acutely in a way, perhaps, that those in straightforwardly working-class places did not.

While I do think Starmer overreacted — the audience was not laughing at his dad, but groaning at his repeated mention of him being a tool maker — the important point here is the authenticity of his anger. His reaction revealed a degree of class-consciousness so deeply ingrained in his character, it will necessarily shape the incoming Labour government. It is, as I have written, what shaped his rejection of Blairism. It is why he has persisted with the tax raid on private school fees when he was happy to cast much else aside. And it is what animates him about the green energy revolution: the prize of a re-industrialisation that few experts believe will ever materialise. The toolmaker’s son has his eyes on the prize, driven along by the quiet rage of the slights of his childhood. Class is back in British politics.

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