Election campaign day seven: Starmer faces row as Abbott claims she’s barred

Labour’s efforts to highlight their plans to tackle NHS waiting lists have been overshadowed by a row over whether veteran left-winger Diane Abbott will be allowed to defend her seat on July 4.

Here are the key moments from day seven of the campaign:

– Confusion over Abbott

Sir Keir Starmer denied claims that Ms Abbott has been barred from standing as a Labour candidate, insisting no decisions have been taken.

Ms Abbott, who was the first black woman to be elected to Parliament, had the whip suspended last year after comments claiming Irish people, Jewish people and Travellers were not subjected to racism in the same way as black people.

That decision was formally reversed on Tuesday, and she was readmitted to the Parliamentary Labour Party, having completed a course on antisemitism over Christmas.

However she told the BBC that she remained banned from standing as a candidate for the party in her Hackney North and Stoke Newington constituency.

She said she was “very dismayed” while the claims sparked anger among allies on the left who said her treatment showed a lack of respect for one of the party’s longest-standing parliamentarians.

But campaigning in Worcester, Sir Keir insisted that the claims were “not true” and it would be for the party’s national executive committee to decide whether she can run.

– Doctors walk out

Junior doctors are to stage a five-day strike in the run-up to polling day as they seek to ramp up pressure on the Government in their long-running pay dispute.

Announcing the walkout – from 7am on June 27 to 7am on July 2 – the doctors’ leaders said their members were “fed up and out of patience” with what they said was ministers’ failure to come up with a “credible pay offer”.

Junior doctors are set to return to the picket lines
Junior doctors are set to return to the picket lines (Aaron Chown/PA)

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said the timing showed the action was politically motivated and called on Labour to condemn the strikes.

“This is a highly cynical tactic,” she posted on social media. “Announcing this during an election and on Labour’s health day shows this was only ever political and not about patients or staff.”

NHS Providers said the move represented a “worrying escalation” that would hit patients hard, and called on politicians and unions to make a resolution to the dispute a “top priority”.

Sir Keir said it was “unforgivable” that ministers had been unable to reach a settlement, but shadow health secretary Wes Streeting warned that an incoming Labour government would not be able to meet the doctors’ demand for a 35% increase.

– Picture of the day

General Election campaign 2024
Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ed Davey campaigning in Knighton, Wales (Jacob King/PA)

– Quote of the day 

– Universities bite back

Mr Sunak faced a backlash from university leaders after the Tories announced plans to shut down “rip-off” degree courses which offered poor value to students.

The Prime Minister said closing under-performing courses – based on dropout rates and future earnings potential – would enable the Government to create 100,000 additional apprenticeships providing real employment opportunities for young people.

Campaigning in Cornwall, he said: “I’m not someone who believes that you have to go to university. What we do know is that there are university degrees that are letting young people down.”

His remarks were condemned by Universities UK chief executive Vivienne Stern who said she was fed up with people “talking down” universities, especially when they had benefitted from higher education themselves.

“I just don’t get the determination to put people off going to university,” she said. “This is especially frustrating when it is driven by people who have degrees. Generally it is other people’s kids they don’t want to go.”

– Number of the day

– Sturgeon returns

Former leader Nicola Sturgeon has announced a tentative return to campaigning for the SNP, but declined to say whether she would appear alongside new leader John Swinney.

She told reporters she would appear “from time to time” in ways she believed would be “helpful” to the party’s candidates.

Nicola Sturgeon said she will be appearing 'from time to time' on the campaign trail
Nicola Sturgeon said she will be appearing ‘from time to time’ on the campaign trail (Jane Barlow/PA)

Since standing down last year as party leader and Scotland’s First Minister, Ms Sturgeon has kept a relatively low profile amid a police investigation into the party’s finances.

Her husband, former SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, was last month charged with embezzlement while Ms Sturgeon has previously been arrested and released without charge as part of the Operation Branchform inquiry.

Asked by reporters whether she remained an asset to the party she once dominated, she said that was “not for me to decide”.

– The leaders go head-to-head

ITV announced that the first head-to-head TV debate of the campaign between Mr Sunak and Sir Keir will take place next week.

General Election campaign 2024
Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer will face off on ITV (PA)

The broadcaster said the hour-long encounter in front of a live studio audience will be screened at 9pm on Tuesday.

Director of news and current affairs Michael Jermey said it will give millions of viewers a chance to see the two men hoping to enter No 10 debating directly with each other.

However Mr Swinney said it was “ridiculous” that his party – the third largest in the Commons – had been excluded.

ITV said it is planning interviews with other party leaders as well as a multi-party debate.

– Dog bites MP

Tory MP Selaine Saxby needed treatment after being bitten by a dog on the campaign trail.

The North Devon MP said it was a “cautionary tale, whoever you are campaigning for this election” after she was bitten on the leg.

“Not all dogs out there are as friendly as my Henry, so please do take care,” she said, in reference to her beloved fox red labrador.

Ms Saxby thanked staff at Fremington Medical Centre and North Devon District Hospital for their “care and kindness”.

– Social media moment

TikTok continued to play a key role on the seventh day with the parties taking different approaches with the site.

Labour continued teasing the Conservatives by sharing a post consisting of two photos on Wednesday. The first showed a black screen with text reading: “LEAKED: New England U19s kit…” followed by a photo of Rishi Sunak smiling and holding a T-shirt with a camouflage pattern with the words “National Service” written on the back, as the Match Of The Day theme tune plays over the top.

Meanwhile, the Tories introduced Lord David Cameron to their TikTok platform on Tuesday, followed by James Cleverly on Wednesday, where the Home Secretary called out shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves for her thoughts on national service and provided a brief explainer on the scheme.

– What the polls are saying

Four more national opinion polls have been published, with all but one putting Labour more than 25 points ahead of the Tories.

The oldest poll to be published was carried out on May 24 and 25 by JL Partners among 2,013 British adults online, and puts Labour on 40%, the Conservatives on 28%, Reform on 12% and the Liberal Democrats on 10%, with the Greens on 5%, the SNP on 3%, Plaid Cymru on 1% and other parties on 1%.

A poll by Redfield & Wilton Strategies, carried out from May 25 to 27 and involving 12,000 British adults online, puts Labour on 46%, the Conservatives on 23%, Reform on 13% and the Lib Dems on 9%, with the Greens on 5%, the SNP on 3% and others on 3%.

Election
(PA Graphics)

Survation published a poll of 2,040 UK adults online, carried out from May 24 to 27, which has Labour on 47%, the Conservatives on 24%, the Lib Dems on 11% and Reform on 8%, with the SNP and Greens both on 3%, Plaid Cymru on 1% and other parties on 4%.

The most recent poll, carried out on May 27 and 28 by YouGov among 2,128 British adults online, puts Labour on 47%, the Tories on 20%, Reform on 12% and the Lib Dems on 9%, with the Greens on 7%, the SNP on 3%, Plaid Cymru on 1% and other parties on 2%.

A simple average of all polls carried out wholly or partly during the seven days to May 29 puts Labour on 45%, 21 percentage points ahead of the Conservatives on 24%, followed by Reform on 12%, the Lib Dems on 10% and the Greens on 6%.

– What’s happening tomorrow?

The Greens launch their General Election campaign in Bristol.