UK’s Labour Sets Out Plans For Government

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Britain’s main opposition Labour party on Thursday set out its stall for this year’s general election, outlining six key pledges to voters in a de-facto campaign launch.

The official five-week election campaign only starts when Prime Minister Rishi Sunak names a date, but he has so far refused to do so, other than to say it will be in the second half of the year.

Nevertheless, both Sunak, who heads the ruling Conservatives, and Labour leader Keir Starmer have switched to election mode, positioning themselves for what is looking like a protracted lead-up.

Sunak outlined his plan on Monday, urging voters to keep faith with the Tories even after 14 tumultuous years in power marked by austerity measures, Brexit, bitter political in-fighting and scandal.

Labour has been consistently well ahead of the Tories in polling for the last 18 months, putting Starmer on course to become prime minister as the leader of the largest party in parliament.

With victory looking likely, he laid out Labour’s “first steps” for government at an event in Essex — a key battleground area in southeast England.

In it he promised economic stability, shorter health service waiting times and a new border security command to tackle irregular immigration.

He also vowed to set up a publicly owned clean energy company, crack down on anti-social behaviour with more neighbourhood police and recruit 6,500 new teachers.

“I’m not going to give you gimmicks,” said Starmer, who paced the stage in a white shirt, sleeves rolled up, as his top team looked on.

“There’s no quick fix to the mess that the Tories have made of this country, but this is a changed Labour party with a plan to take us forward.

“I have ambition for this country and like all ambition that starts with first steps,” he added.

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The pledges, which have largely been made before, are intended to add some flesh to the bones of five “missions” that Labour says will spur a “decade of national renewal” after 14 years of Tory rule.

Many commentators likened them to the pledge cards brought in by Labour’s most successful leader, Tony Blair, whose 10 years as prime minister began with a landslide victory against the Tories in 1997.

They are set to feature on advertising vans and billboards in target constituencies across England in what Labour says is its most expensive ad campaign since the 2019 general election.

At that vote, Labour under the leadership of left-winger Jeremy Corbyn suffered its worst defeat in nearly a century, as Boris Johnson romped home with his own promise to “Get Brexit Done”.

Starmer, a centrist pro-European former lawyer, has since moved Labour to the centre ground to make the party a more palatable electoral force than under veteran activist Corbyn.

The Conservatives meanwhile have replaced their leader twice, turning on Johnson after his handling of the Covid pandemic and one scandal too many, then forcing out Liz Truss after just 49 days.

Former finance minister Sunak, 44, has sought to repair the damage caused by Truss’s disastrous mini-budget of unfunded tax cuts, which spooked financial markets and sank the pound.

But he goes into the election with the Tories’ reputation for economic competence tarnished, and riven by ideological splits between moderates and anti-immigration, free market right-wingers.

Starmer, 61, promised to implement “tough spending rules” to prevent further misery for people who have seen their household budgets squeezed by high inflation and mortgage hikes under the Tories.

Sunak, who is hoping for better economic conditions by the end of the year, has to hold an election by January 28, 2025 and is using the time to try to keep his party together and revive its fortunes.

On Monday he notably warned that Labour would jeopardise UK security and insisted his party can still win the election but again refused to set a date.

AFP