23 May 2024, 11:44

UK parties sharpen knives as general election looms

LONDON, May 23, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - UK political parties began jostling for
position on Thursday, setting out their electoral battle plans after
embattled Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called a general election for July 4.

Sunak ended months of speculation about the date of the vote in a rain-soaked
speech Wednesday outside Downing Street, which some took as an omen for his
Conservatives' chances at the ballot box.

The right-wing Tories, in power since 2010 but battered by Brexit, a slew of
scandals and ideological infighting, have consistently trailed the main
opposition Labour party in opinion polls for two years.

That gap has widened, prompting many commentators to predict a landslide win
for Labour in what would be a remarkable reverse after a heavy defeat for the
leftists in 2019.

Soon after Sunak's speech, a snap Survation poll of voting intentions put
Labour on 48 points, its highest since November 2022 and a huge 21 points
ahead of the Tories, on 27.

The online poll of more than 1,000 adults on Wednesday and Thursday also
found that 43 percent of respondents said Labour leader Keir Starmer would
make a better prime minister than Sunak.

Survation said the results were consistent with Labour's polling throughout
2023 and this year, and with other surveys that have suggested similar

The vote -- the first to be held in July in the UK since 1945, when Labour
won -- will be Sunak's first national electoral test, as he was appointed
Tory leader by his own MPs in October 2022.

A former financier, the 44-year-old Sunak presented his party as the safe
choice in an increasingly dangerous world, and promised to "fight for every
vote" to overturn the opinion poll deficit.

He also trumpeted the Tories as the party of economic stability, after
inflation fell to under three percent and IMF data indicated faster growth in
the UK than in Germany, the US and France.

Labour, he said, was an unknown quantity, accusing Starmer of ideological
flip-flopping on policy to curry favour with voters.

- Policies -

Starmer, 61, was quick to respond after Sunak's speech, publishing a slick
election video saying Labour would "stop the chaos" of Conservative rule and
"rebuild Britain".

"If they get another five years they will feel entitled to carry on exactly
as they are. Nothing will change," said Starmer, a former human rights lawyer
and chief state prosecutor.

Labour also promises economic stability, saying the Tories' reputation for
sound stewardship of the nation's finances remained stained by former premier
Liz Truss's short-lived tenure.

Sunak replaced Truss after just 49 days, when her tax cut plans spooked
financial markets, sinking the pound and increasing mortgage rates as
households were already battling higher energy prices.

Starmer has also promised border security efforts to tackle record levels of
irregular immigration.

Sunak wants to push on with his pledge to "stop the boats" crossing the
Channel, even as his controversial plan to deport failed asylum seekers to
Rwanda remains mired in legal challenges.

The official campaign gets underway five weeks before the election.
Parliament will be prorogued -- suspending its current session -- on Friday,
and formally dissolved next Thursday.

Voting for the 650 parliamentary constituencies in the lower House of Commons
is under the "first past the post" system, with results expected on July 5
and a quick turnaround if one party secures a majority of seats.

The new parliament will be summoned to meet on July 9, when a new speaker
will be elected and MPs sworn in. The formal State Opening will be on July

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