• Wednesday, July 24, 2024

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Sunak woos voters with tax cuts, reduced immigration

Rishi Sunak channelled Tory heroine Margaret Thatcher by pledges of greater home ownership to woo a largely disaffected electorate away from Labour

Sunak delivers a speech to launch the Conservatives’ general election manifesto in Silverstone, central England. (Photo: Getty Images)

By: Shajil Kumar

PRIME minister Rishi Sunak on Tuesday (11) sought to get his lacklustre general election campaign back on track by promising voters tax cuts and lower immigration as he launched his Conservative party’s manifesto.

Sunak channelled Tory heroine Margaret Thatcher by pledges of greater home ownership to woo a largely disaffected electorate away from poll frontrunners Labour before the poll on July 4.

He said taxes would be cut by £17.2 billion a year by 2029/30, while welfare spending would be cut by £12 billion a year.

“We Conservatives have a plan to give you financial security,” said Sunak, unveiling his party’s blueprint for a fifth consecutive term in office at Silverstone, home of the British Formula 1 Grand Prix.

Centre-left Labour is in pole position, however, and Tuesday’s launch marked one of Sunak’s last chances to close the gap in his bid to overtake the main opposition.

Sunak, appointed party leader by fellow Tories in October 2022 after Liz Truss’s disastrous tenure, has endured a nightmare election campaign in which he was even forced to deny rumours that he might quit.

Polls have predicted for many months that Labour, led by former human rights lawyer Keir Starmer, will win a huge majority and return to power after almost a decade and a half in opposition.

Sunak’s uphill battle was last week made even harder after right-wing firebrand Nigel Farage announced he was running to become an MP, and the prime minister drew near-universal criticism for leaving D-Day commemoration events early.

Tax sops

The Tories pledged to cut national insurance paid by employees and employers for state health, unemployment and pensions for a third time this year if re-elected and scrap it for the self-employed.

The party also promised to abolish stamp duty up to the value of £425,000 for first-time home buyers and end capital gains tax for landlords who sell properties to their tenants.

Sunak said his government would pay for lower taxes by cracking down on welfare payments for people of working age.

“We are the party of Margaret Thatcher and Nigel Lawson – the party that believes in sound money,” Sunak said, referring to the free market former Tory prime minister and her finance minister.

“We are the party of the property-owning democracy,” said Sunak, 44, who even on Monday night admitted in a television interview that owning a home had got harder under the Tories in the last 14 years.

Critics also point to record low levels of house building and high mortgage rates under the Tories, blamed on Sunak’s short-lived predecessor Liz Truss’s promise of unfunded tax cuts.

‘Chaos’

A shortage in supply has increased prices, including for renters already hit by cost-of-living pressures.

Sunak elsewhere promised that his government would halve record levels of immigration, including with a “regular rhythm” of flights carrying failed asylum seekers to Rwanda.

He accused Labour of wanting to increase the tax burden on households although the figures are in dispute.

Starmer said the money was not there to pay for Sunak’s pledges and warned the manifesto was a “recipe for five more years of chaos”.

With some three weeks to go before the election, the polls still give Labour a lead of around 20 points over the Conservatives, with the anti-immigration Reform UK party, led by Farage, in third place.

The Conservatives are facing the fall-out from the Brexit they advocated, the scandals of former prime minister Boris Johnson’s government and a cost-of-living crisis that forced Britons to tighten their belts since 2022.

Sunak called the election during a rain-drenched speech in late May, six months earlier than he had to.

He has repeatedly apologised for not joining other world leaders last week at an event in northern France to mark the 80th anniversary of the D-Day, which caused widespread uproar.

When asked by journalists if rumours of him resigning were true, Sunak told broadcasters Monday: “No, of course not. I’m energised about the vision that we’re putting forward for the country.” (Agencies)

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