British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrives at the Ukraine peace summit in Obbürgen, Switzerland, Saturday, June 15, 2024.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrives at the Ukraine peace summit in Obbürgen, Switzerland, Saturday, June 15, 2024.Photo | AP

2024 UK Elections: Rishi Sunak is running out of time to change the tune ahead of July 4 polls

Polls continue to give the opposition Labour Party under Keir Starmer a double-digit lead over Sunak's Conservatives, who have been in power for 14 years under five different prime ministers.

LONDON: With less than three weeks until Britain's election day, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is running out of time to change an ominous tune for his Conservative Party.

The UK leader, who in recent days travelled to the G7 Summit in Italy and a Swiss conference on the Ukraine war, has been dogged by questions about whether voters are about to bring his time in office to an abrupt end on July 4.

Polls continue to give the left-of-center opposition Labour Party under Keir Starmer a double-digit lead over Sunak's Conservatives, who have been in power for 14 years under five different prime ministers.

Sunak's attempts to close the gap have had little apparent impact. The biggest splash he's made in the campaign so far was a gaffe—the prime minister's decision to skip an international ceremony in France on June 6, marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. He has been apologising ever since.

Commentators are starting to talk about doomsday scenarios for the Conservatives, who have governed Britain for almost two-thirds of the past 100 years and won 365 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons in the 2019 election.

University of Strathclyde politics professor John Curtice, one of Britain's most respected polling experts, said Conservative support is at its lowest point in UK polling history, and Sunak "must be beginning to doubt his decision to call the election early."

In the past week, both Conservatives and Labour have released their election manifestos, the detailed packages of promises that form the centrepiece of their pitch to voters.

The Conservatives focused on reducing immigration and lowering taxes, pledging 17 billion pounds ($22 billion) in tax cuts by 2030, to be paid for largely by slashing welfare costs.

Labour promised to get the economy expanding after years of sluggish growth by establishing a new industrial policy, investing in infrastructure, cutting planning red tape and building 1.5 million new homes. It has promised not to increase personal taxes, but the Conservatives say the tax burden will rise under Labour.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrives at the Ukraine peace summit in Obbürgen, Switzerland, Saturday, June 15, 2024.
2024 UK Elections: Labour pitches for power with 'wealth creation' manifesto

Critics say neither party is being upfront about the tax increases that would be needed to repair public services left threadbare after years of Conservative-led spending cuts, Brexit, a global pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis triggered by Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

"The gaping hole in both parties' manifestos is a reckoning with the scale and severity of the fiscal problems that will confront whoever wins the election," said Hannah White, director of Independent think-tank the Institute for Government.

The Conservatives' electoral prospects worsened when populist firebrand Nigel Farage entered the race at the helm of the right-wing party Reform UK Though it is unlikely to win many seats in Parliament, Reform's vote share appears to be rising, largely at the expense of the Conservatives.

In recent days, the Conservative message has shifted from aiming at victory to warning that voting Reform could help Labour win a landslide.

"If you vote for anybody else other than a Conservative candidate, you're going to get a Labour government with a large majority," Transport Secretary Mark Haper told the BBC on Sunday.

Labour is concerned that its supporters will think the election is in the bag and stay home on polling day. Health spokesman Wes Streeting cautioned Sunday that there was "breathtaking complacency in the media" about the Labour Party's poll lead.

Sunak, who has been in office for less than 20 months, insists he is still fighting to win.

Britain's first Hindu prime minister told the Sunday Times he was guided by the concept of dharma, which he said roughly translates as "doing your duty and not having a focus on the outcomes of it."

"Work as hard as you can, do what you believe is right, and try, and what will be will be," he said.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrives at the Ukraine peace summit in Obbürgen, Switzerland, Saturday, June 15, 2024.
UK's glum Conservatives try to shift the mood with election promises as polling day nears

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