General election 2019: Labour's turn to be on the back foot

Laura Kuenssberg
Political editor
@bbclaurakon Twitter

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionJonathan Ashworth was forced to explain his secretly taped comments

As the Tories discovered to their cost on Monday, the election is not over.

Boris Johnson's weirdly robotic response to a young child's experience in an NHS hospital saw to that.

Conservatives were certainly cross with their boss's unforced political error.

But one cabinet minister told me they didn't think it "would really tip things"; it was simply too late in the day.

There is no question it gave Labour an opportunity to hammer home their message all day yesterday, and may well have planted more seeds of doubt in voters' minds about which way to go.

A group of women in Staffordshire today, some of whom hadn't yet made their up their minds, all said worries about the health service were the number one factor for them, mentioning the picture that caused such a stir yesterday.

Cross-party friendships

Another last minute story bust its way into these closing moments of the campaign, grabbing headlines today, and putting Labour on the back foot this time.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionJeremy Corbyn was greeted by supporters in Nelson, Lancashire

A recording of a private conversation between Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth and a (now former) Tory friend ended up on a Conservative-supporting website.

Notwithstanding how this happened - cross-party friendships where people chew the fat and can enjoy each other's company, even if they don't share views, are a feature of UK politics that most people in Westminster would be sorry to lose - this was a tricky moment for Labour for a couple of reasons.

First off, the embarrassment of it coming out was a distraction on a vital day of campaigning when Jeremy Corbyn was trying to clock up the miles and convince people of his vision.

Instead, he and Mr Ashworth had to, rather toe-curlingly, try to talk their way out of it. You can read more about what he was actually taped saying here.

But it also created a problem because it put Mr Corbyn's personal popularity problem slap bang back in the middle of the race.

'Hoping for a miracle'

Yes, the Labour leader has many, many die-hard fans. We've seen that around the country, and many Labour members have put their faith in him.

In a sodden crowd in Nelson in Lancashire today, a few hundred people waited in biting cold to cheer him.

Some of them told me they were "hoping for a miracle", a Labour government on Friday after years of a squeeze on spending they believe has had a serious impact on their lives.

Younger voters break significantly in favour of the Labour Party too. If the under-30s were the only ones to vote he'd be strolling into power.

But there is no secret that a fair number of the MPs who have sat alongside Jeremy Corbyn, now candidates in this election, harbour profound doubts about some of his beliefs, and his ability.

That's the same for some long-time activists too.

Some quit the shadow cabinet, many worked together to try to oust him, a sprinkling of them even left the party altogether, going very public with their criticisms.

Just because Mr Corbyn has been more secure in his position since the last election, those doubts haven't gone away.

And at this moment, crucially, it's what Labour candidates are reporting they are hearing on the doorstep, and it's what we have heard from many voters as we have criss-crossed the country during this campaign.

Just like the Tories' vulnerability on the NHS, today's storm may well not move much for many voters.

But it's another ring of an alarm bell that's already been sounding in many voters' minds.

And that sentiment, in the last 48 hours of the race, could count.

Follow election night on the BBC

  • Watch the election night special with Huw Edwards from 21:55 GMT on BBC One, the BBC News Channel, and BBC iPlayer
  • It will also be shown on BBC World News and streamed live on the BBC News website internationally
  • As polls close at 22:00, the BBC will publish an exit poll across all its platforms, including @bbcbreaking and @bbcpolitics
  • The BBC News website and app will bring you live coverage and the latest analysis throughout the night
  • We will feature results for every constituency as they come in with a postcode search, map and scoreboards
  • Follow @bbcelection for every constituency result
  • From 21:45 GMT, Jim Naughtie and Emma Barnett will host live election night coverage on BBC Radio 4, with BBC Radio 5 live joining for a simulcast from midnight

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