‘You wait then three come in a row’ – Starmer compares buses to Tory defections

Sir Keir Starmer compared Tory defections to the frequency of public transport as he launched Labour’s campaign battle bus tour in west London.

The Labour leader, his deputy Angela Rayner and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves gave speeches in front of the red coach emblazoned 15 times with the party’s key slogan “Change” on Saturday morning.

Sir Keir also refused to be drawn into talking about the Diane Abbott row, telling broadcasters: “I dealt with that issue yesterday.”

The Labour leader on Friday finally gave the veteran left-winger the green light to stand for his party in the election, after days of questions over her future and party infighting that overshadowed his campaigning.

In his Saturday speech, Sir Keir said: “All week she’s (Ms Rayner) been showing me photographs of her bus and now I’ve come to see this fantastic bus.

“It’s rather like Tory defectors. You wait for ages and then three come along in a row.”

Rishi Sunak recently suffered three defections to Labour, with Dan Poulter and Natalie Elphicke crossing the floor while MPs in recent weeks before parliament was dissolved, and former MP Mark Logan on Thursday saying he was quitting the Conservatives to back Sir Keir’s party at the General Election.

Ms Rayner will set off on a 5,000-mile journey to battleground seats.

The Yutong coach features 35 seats and a fridge and will carry key Labour figures, staff and media to campaign events before polling day on July 4.

General Election campaign 2024
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner (left), takes a selfie at the launch event (Lucy North/PA)

Sir Keir also joked about former prime minister Boris Johnson, who was previously MP for Uxbridge, where the battle bus launch was held.

He said: “This one, Ange, I’m reliably told has got a fridge in the back of it. So check that Boris Johnson isn’t in there. He used to be around these parts.”

Mr Johnson hid in a fridge to avoid a TV interview in the run-up to the 2019 election.

Ms Rayner said: “I’m going to really enjoy being out and about up and down the country on our bus.

“We want to send a message to the people of this country – we are a changed Labour Party, in the service of working people.

“And we will never ride high and roughshod on the economy.”

General Election campaign 2024
The coach was greeted by Labour supporters (Lucy North/PA)

The Ulez-compliant bus then set off from within London’s ultra low emission zone with the Labour deputy leader aboard. It will make its first stops in the East of England later on Saturday.

As the campaigning enters its second week, Sir Keir announced on Saturday a series of proposed employment support and welfare benefits reforms aimed at increasing the employment rate from 75% to 80%.

This includes a new combined national jobs and careers service, local plans for work, health and skills support, and a guarantee of opportunities for young people.

The to create a new employment service gained the backing of the Institute For Public Policy Research (IPPR).

Rachel Statham, associate director at the think tank, said: “IPPR has called for some time for the creation of a high-quality, public employment service – for everyone, available any time, that offers local support to meet individual needs, and supports long term progression in secure and good quality work.

“Today’s announcement signals a major step towards that vision, and an opportunity to align the UK’s industrial strategy and employment support services through greater devolution and dedicated investment.

“A rethink of our employment support offer is long overdue – and joining up health, skills and work support is a common-sense priority for any party serious about building a healthier and more prosperous country.”