With 2024 being a UK election year, the opposition wants an early vote; PM Rishi Sunak in no rush

With 2024 being a UK election year, the opposition wants an early vote; PM Rishi Sunak in no rush

By Associated Press

LONDON: The politician favoured to become Britain’s next prime minister accused the governing Conservatives on Thursday of leading the country into decline and despair during their 14 years in power, and urged Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to “bring it on” and hold an early election.

Sunak, whose party is trailing in opinion polls, resisted pressure for an early vote, saying he planned to wait until “the second half of this year.”

Kicking off a year likely to be dominated by electioneering, Labour Party leader Keir Starmer urged voters to reject a “tide of cynicism” about politicians. He said a Labour government would deliver “Project Hope,” though he ruled out major tax cuts or spending rises soon after an election.

Starmer is aiming to return his left-of-centre party, out of office since 2010, back to power in an election that must be held by January 2025.

Opinion polls consistently give Labour a double-digit lead over Sunak’s Conservatives, who have churned through three prime ministers in 18 months amid a stuttering economy and a drumbeat of ethics scandals. But Starmer is trying to warn his party against complacency and to rouse disillusioned voters from apathy.

“Everyone agrees we’re in a huge mess,” Starmer said during a speech in the southwest England city of Bristol. “Services on their knees, an economy that doesn’t work for working people even when it grows, let alone now when it stagnates.”

He said that while most agreed “that Britain needs change … trust in politics is now so low, so degraded, that nobody believes you can make a difference anymore.”

“Don’t listen when they say we’re all the same. We’re not and we never will be,” he added, saying voters had a choice between “continued decline with the Tories or national renewal with Labour.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

With inflation still high and the economy showing close to zero growth, Labour is being cautious about making financial promises. Starmer said Labour would aim to lower taxes, but that getting the economy growing was the top priority.

“The first lever that we want to pull, the first place we will go, is growth in our economy because that’s what’s been missing for 14 years,” he said.

Starmer also said Labour’s promise to invest 28 billion pounds ($36 billion) a year until 2030 in green projects would depend on the state of the public finances.

Starmer has wrestled Labour back to the political centre ground after taking over in 2020 from left-winger Jeremy Corbyn, who led the party to defeats in 2017 and 2019. He has dropped Corbyn’s opposition to Britain’s nuclear weapons, backed military aid to Ukraine, apologized for antisemitism within the party under Corbyn and stressed the party’s commitment to balancing the books.

The 61-year-old politician embraced a resume that opponents have used against him: a onetime human rights lawyer and former head of the national prosecution service. He said those roles meant he understood “the responsibility of justice and public service and … the responsibility of serious government.”

He urged Sunak to fire the starting gun on an election campaign. Senior Labour officials have talked up the prospect of a May election — in part to put pressure on the prime minister.

But Sunak, who became prime minister through an internal Conservative leadership contest in October 2022, indicated he is in no rush to seek voters’ judgment. He has the power to call an election whenever he wants ahead of the deadline.

He said his “working assumption” was that the vote would be held in the second half of 2024.

“I want to keep going, managing the economy well and cutting people’s taxes. But I also want to keep tackling illegal migration,” Sunak told reporters. “So, I’ve got lots to get on with and I’m determined to keep delivering for the British people.”