General election 2019: Five-week campaign period officially begins

Boris Johnson greeted by royal officials as he arrives at Buckingham PalaceImage copyright PA Media
Image caption Boris Johnson spent about 20 minutes at Buckingham Palace

Campaigning in the general election will officially begin later, after Parliament was dissolved in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Boris Johnson has met the Queen at Buckingham Palace, marking the start of the election period in the run-up to the 12 December poll.

The Conservatives will also launch their campaign, with Mr Johnson promising he can “get Brexit done”.

Meanwhile, in a speech Jeremy Corbyn will pledge “real change” under Labour.

Elsewhere, as the starting pistol is fired on five weeks of official campaigning:

  • The Green Party is launching its campaign with a promise to invest £100bn a year on climate action
  • The Liberal Democrats have pledged to spend £2.2bn a year on mental health services, funded by a 1% rise to income tax
  • Tory MP Andrew Bridgen has apologised “unreservedly” for comments about the Grenfell Fire Tragedy
  • A senior Welsh Conservative says it looks “very difficult” for Alun Cairns to lead the party’s election campaign in Wales after his former aide “sabotaged” a rape trial.
  • Labour’s ruling body meets to discuss whether Chris Williamson and Keith Vaz can stand as candidates

Tory Party chairman James Cleverly has defended the conduct of the party’s campaign so far after two Conservatives were forced to apologise for comments about the Grenfell tragedy and the party was accused of “doctoring” a video of Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer talking about Brexit.

Mr Cleverly said Jacob Rees Mogg and Andrew Bridgen’s remarks about the actions of Grenfell victims had “caused hurt and distress”, telling BBC Breakfast “we don’t always get things right and when we get it wrong we apologise”.

However, he insisted the Starmer video – which has been described as “inexplicable” by one of his own MPs Johnny Mercer – was “obviously light-hearted” and would not be removed.

He said those in the party “point their fingers” at the rich “with a relish and a vindictiveness not seen since Stalin persecuted the kulaks” – wealthier peasants during the Russian Revolution, many of whom were murdered or starved to death.

Mr Johnson also likened the UK to a “supercar blocked in the traffic” by Brexit, adding: “If we can get Brexit done, there are hundreds of billions of pounds of investment that are just waiting to flood into this country”.

And he repeated his claim that as well as another referendum on Brexit, a Labour government would also lead to a second vote on Scottish independence.

A tricky start for the Tories

Image copyright PA Media

The simple fact this morning is that the Conservatives would love to be talking about their all-singing, all-dancing campaign launch happening later today.

But campaigns have an alchemy and the Tory campaign has bad chemistry in these opening days.

One cabinet minister told me yesterday that ‘if we can hold our message, if we can stick to the core idea that we are the ones who can wrap up the mess of Brexit and be able to move on we will be OK’.

They definitely could not stick to that yesterday. At the same time, campaigns are a bit like pouring concrete. They take a while to set.

Inside the Tory party, as in all the parties, they know that the first few weeks are important to set out the parameters but days on their own don’t mean in a few weeks time the balance will be the same.

Parliament was dissolved – or formally shut down – at just after midnight, meaning all MPs revert to being members of the public. Government ministers keep their posts.

The PM’s audience with the Queen lasted about 20 minutes.

While the election has already been approved by MPs, the monarch still needs to sign a royal proclamation confirming the end of the last Parliament.

The dissolution ended the shortest parliamentary session in just over 70 years, with the Commons having met for only 19 days since the state opening on 14 October.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph to launch the Conservative Party’s campaign, Mr Johnson compared his opponent Mr Corbyn to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jeremy Corbyn visited Harlow in Essex – a target seat for Labour – on Tuesday

Mr Johnson – who will speak in the West Midlands later – said he did not want the election, but “we simply have no choice”.

“There is only one way to get Brexit done, and I am afraid the answer is to ask the people to change this blockading Parliament.”

Mr Johnson added: “It’s time to change the dismal pattern of the last three years and to get out of our rut.”

“The choice is clear. We can either go with Corbyn and his two favourite advisers, Dither and Delay… Or else we can vote for a sensible and moderate One Nation Conservative government”.

Mr Johnson said that as well as another referendum on Brexit, a Labour government would also lead to a second vote on Scottish independence.

Mr Corbyn has previously said a new Scottish independence referendum was not “desirable or necessary” – but the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon said she believed Labour would give the go-ahead for one if in government.

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Media captionElection 2019: what happened on Tuesday?

At his own campaign event in Telford later, Mr Corbyn is expected to say he would be a “very different kind of prime minister” who “only seeks power in order to share power”.

He will pledge to end in-work poverty and food bank use within five years – and said a future Labour government should be judged on whether it meets its promises.

“The politics I stand for is about sharing power and wealth with people who don’t have a lot of money and don’t have friends in high places,” he will say.

But former Labour foreign secretary Jack Straw has suggested a Corbyn victory could have a detrimental effect on the UK’s national security.

He told the Times other countries could “lessen intelligence co-operation” with the UK if Mr Corbyn – a long-time critic of US foreign policy – made it to Downing Street.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott told the BBC that long-standing intelligence arrangements would continue as the UK’s security services, including MI5, understood “democracy depends on supporting the government of the day”.

On Tuesday, the Liberal Democrats launched their campaign, with leader Jo Swinson saying the election could be a “a moment for seismic change” when “a new and different politics” emerges.

Short session of Parliament: How does it compare?

  • The 19-day session of Parliament this year is the shortest since October 1948, when MPs sat for just 10 days.
  • That session was called purely as part of efforts to amend the Parliament Act to reduce the powers of the House of Lords.
  • In February 1974, MPs sat for 60 days before Edward Heath’s Conservative government called a snap general election.
  • A 1922 session of Parliament lasted only 17 days, as MPs met to pass legislation to approve the Irish Free State.
  • A year earlier, there was a four-day session purely to approve the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

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