Sunak ‘has not given up’ on victory amid Tory fears of Labour landslide

Thursday, Jun 13, 2024

LONDON: Rishi Sunak insisted he had “absolutely not” lost hope of winning the General Election as Tory allies warned about the risk of Labour winning a “supermajority”.

The Prime Minister warned against giving Sir Keir Starmer a “blank cheque” if he won power, but stressed that he was still hopeful of victory.

His comments came after Defence Secretary Grant Shapps suggested the Tories were now fighting to prevent a 1997-style Labour landslide.

Mr Shapps said it would be “very bad news” for the country if Sir Keir was able to enter No 10 with his power “unchecked” by Parliament.

The Tory strategy, backed by a social media advertising campaign, is aimed at persuading would-be Reform UK voters not to risk handing Labour a majority which could eclipse even Tony Blair’s victory.

The online advert highlights a scenario suggesting the Tories could be reduced to just 57 seats in Parliament on a 19% vote share, even if Reform picked up no MPs.

Mr Shapps told Times Radio that to ensure proper accountability “you don’t want to have somebody receive a supermajority”.

But Mr Sunak insisted he was still fighting to win.

Asked by journalists if the change in tone showed the Tories had conceded defeat, the Prime Minister said: “No absolutely not. What you saw yesterday is we’ve put a manifesto forward which has got a very clear set of tax cuts for the country, tax cuts at every stage of your life.

“Whether you’re working or setting up a small business, tax cuts when you’re trying to buy your first home, tax cut for pensioners, and tax cuts for families.

“And I’m really energised to now have a chance to put a very clear plan to the country and talk about all the things I want to do.”

He added that the manifesto showed a “clear direction of travel” that the Tories would take if they win the election.

Mr Shapps, sent out on the airwaves by the Conservatives, suggested that his party’s goal now was to provide the strongest-possible opposition in Parliament rather then allow Labour the kind of majority that would allow Sir Keir to operate without resistance.

He told Times Radio: “In this case, of course, the concern would be that if Keir Starmer were to go into No 10 – it will either be Rishi Sunak or Keir Starmer, there’s no other outcomes to this election – and that power was in some way unchecked, it would be very bad news for people in this country.

“A blank-cheque approach, allowing someone to do anything they wanted, particularly when their particular set of plans are so vague, and they say ‘change’, but you have no idea what they actually want to change to, other than the fact that they’ve outlined plans which would cost £2,094 to every working family in this country.”

Labour has disputed the Tory claim that it would need to implement the tax rises claimed by Mr Shapps over the course of the next Parliament.

Mr Shapps added: “It’s perfectly legitimate to say the country doesn’t function well when you get majorities the size of Blair’s or even bigger, and we would say there are a lot of very good, hardworking MPs who can hold the government of the day to account and we’d say those are Conservative MPs.”

Sir Keir insisted Labour was not complacent about victory but urged voters to give him the mandate to deliver change.

He said: “We know that we have to earn every vote.

“Not a single vote has been cast and I know that every day we have to make a positive case for change.”

Mr Sunak and Sir Keir are preparing for a Sky News event in Grimsby where they will face questions from journalist Beth Rigby and the studio audience.

The event takes place after official figures suggested the economy flatlined in April.

Monthly gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated to have shown no growth, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said: “Rishi Sunak claims we have turned a corner, but the economy has stalled and there is no growth.”

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokeswoman Sarah Olney said: “The Conservatives have utterly failed to deliver the growth they repeatedly promised, instead presiding over stagnation and economic misery for hardworking families across the country.”

But Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the figures showed the economy “grew by 0.7% in the three months to April”.

“There is more to do, but the economy is turning a corner and inflation is back down to normal,” he said.

The Chancellor said the Tories had a plan to grow the economy and cut taxes but that voting Labour would “risk all that progress”.