• Tuesday, April 16, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

Election in second half of 2024, signals Sunak

“My working assumption is we’ll have a general election in the second half of this year,” Sunak said.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak waves during a visit to the MyPlace Youth Centre, in Mansfield, in central England on January 4, 2024. (Photo by JACOB KING/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Pramod Thomas

RISHI SUNAK fired the starting gun on Britain’s next election on Thursday (4), saying his “working assumption” was it would take place in the second half of the year, all but ruling out an earlier vote opposition parties had called for.

The prime minister and Labour leader Keir Starmer both made their first public appearances of 2024, travelling to Mansfield, in the English Midlands, and Bristol, in the West Country.

“My working assumption is we will have a general election in the second half of this year, because in the meantime I have lots I want to get on with,” Sunak told reporters during a visit to central England.

Few had believed the British leader would call an early election with his Tories so far behind in the polls, but opposition parties had hoped to bounce him into it by saying he was running scared of voters.

Tories has been in power for 14 years but is widely expected to lose the vote, which must be held before the end of January next year.

Sunak has already ruled out leaving it until the last minute to go to the country, not just to secure a fifth consecutive term of office for the Tories but his own mandate with the electorate.

The former finance minister was elected in an internal party ballot in October 2022, taking over from the short-lived Liz Truss after Boris Johnson quit following a series of scandals.

Speculation has been mounting about when Sunak will decide to hold the vote, as he tries to drive down inflation that peaked at nearly 11 per cent and reboot economic growth.

Sunak refused to rule out holding the poll on May 2 to coincide with local elections, but indicated he wanted more time to get the economy back on an even keel.

“I want to keep going, managing the economy well and cutting people’s taxes. But I also want to keep tackling illegal migration,” he said, referring to another key pledge.

“So, I’ve got lots to get on with and I’m determined to keep delivering for the British people.”

Starmer, a 61-year-old former chief state prosecutor, said Thursday he was “ready” for the election and called on Sunak to “bring it on”.

The Labour leader said the election would offer the country the chance to “get our future back” as he laid out what he called “Project Hope” in a lengthy speech broadcast live on TV news channels.

He told voters the poll would be a choice between “14 years of decline” and “a decade of national renewal”.

“This is your year. The opportunity to shape our country’s future rests in your hands,” Starmer said.

“The chance, finally, to turn the page, lift the weight off our shoulders, unite as a country and get our future back.”

Starmer’s speech was thin on policy detail but he repeated existing pledges to spur higher growth, put more police on Britain’s streets and create a publicly owned clean national energy company.

He said voters were right to be “anti-Westminster”, referring to the UK parliament in London, and “angry about what politics has become” following three Tory prime ministers in little over a year.

But he warned against apathy.

“The biggest challenge we face, bar none, (is) the shrug of the shoulder,” said Starmer, urging Britons to “reject the pointless populist gestures” and “low-road cynicism that the Tories believe is all you deserve”.

Pat McFadden, Labour’s national campaign coordinator, accused Sunak of “bottling” holding the election.

“He needs to stop hiding, stop being so weak, stop squatting in Number 10 without a mandate and simply come clean with the public: when will the British people get their say on 14 years of Tory (Conservative) failure?,” he asked in a statement.

“Even now Sunak is still leaving himself as much wiggle room as possible. But the reality is clear: the only thing worse than five more months of this Tory government would be five more years.”

Johnson won a landslide victory for the Tories at the last election in December 2019, on a pledge to “get Brexit done”.

(Agencies)

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