Boris Johnson’s Brexit day instead turned into Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign launch.
The Labour leader, addressing a room packed with party activists, was energised as he set out an election pitch which had all the hallmarks of the 2017 campaign.
Promising to take on “the few who run a corrupt system” and fire up a “people-powered campaign”, Mr Corbyn is pitched as the leader for the ordinary people, while Boris Johnson and his Conservatives are the champions of the rich.
The soundbites from this speech will be replayed throughout the five-week election campaign as the Labour Party recommissions its “for the many not the few” slogan of 2017.
“Labour will put wealth and power into the hands of the many,” Mr Corbyn told activists to wild applause.
“Boris Johnson’s Conservatives, who think they’re born to rule, will only look after the privileged few.”
The programme is radical and the activists motivated. They are desperate to see Mr Corbyn’s rhetoric of shaking up capitalism turned into real policy: re-nationalisation of the rail, road, and water companies and tax rises for the rich.
But the warmth and affection felt for Mr Corbyn in the activist base doesn’t feed through to the doorsteps: and it could prove a real drag on Labour’s ability to win this election.
The Labour leader has the lowest personal polling of any opposition leader since such ratings began in 1977, while a new Ipsos Mori poll on Thursday revealed that just 16% of people are satisfied with him, compared with 76% who are dissatisfied.
A net score then of minus 60: while Labour activists and Corbyn supporters may hate to admit it, there is a clear disconnect between their view of Mr Corbyn and the wider public.
Perhaps because many Labour voters don’t identify with Mr Corbyn.
He likes to call out Mr Johnson for behaving like a “born to rule” former Etonian who governs only to feather the nests of an “establishment elite”, but what if Labour voters outside the big cities see Mr Corbyn as part of a metropolitan, London elite as much out-of-touch with their lives as the others who roam Westminster? It is a charge Mr Corbyn passionately rejects, saying on Thursday that there was nothing elitist about Islington. “My constituency, like every other constituency in the country, has people who are totally up against it.”
The latest polls suggest the Conservatives and Mr Johnson have the whip hand over Labour and Mr Corbyn. But in such an unpredictable election only the foolhardy would extrapolate from strong polling that the Tories would romp home. It depends how the vote splits between the Tories, Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party in scores of marginal seats. No leader can know if, in the end, the voters will chose party identities over Brexit ones. So all they can do is focus on their core messages and hope the people will come.
But this will be a very hard-fought campaign. Mr Johnson sees it as his chance to win a majority, deliver Brexit, and govern for the long-term and for Mr Corbyn this is probably his last chance as Labour leader to genuinely overhaul how Britain and our economy works.
And part of that tough battle will be very personal, whether Mr Corbyn likes it or not. When I asked him on Thursday how he was going to try to turn around his poor personal ratings, he shrugged it off insisting the election was “not about me”.
“It’s not a presidential election,” he added.
But the Tories will want to make it so. They know Mr Corbyn’s relative unpopularity compared with their own man Boris Johnson is a weakness they must try to exploit.
In the last snap election, Mr Corbyn defied expectations as Labour closed the gap dramatically on the Tories. His supporters believe he can do it again.
“Once people have heard our policies, they’re on side,” John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, told me on Thursday after his party leader’s speech. “Once they’ve listened to him and they love him. As soon as we get that message on the doorstep, it’ll transform the campaign”.
But there was a reason that over 100 Labour MPs ignored their leader to vote against this December election. They worry that the adoration of party members won’t translate in the millions of votes Mr Corbyn will need to win the campaign. Many in his party quietly fret that he peaked in the 2017 snap election and won’t be able to get there again.