By Elizabeth Piper
LONDON (Reuters) – Labour leader Keir Starmer appealed to British voters on Thursday to cast off their anger with politics and oust the governing Conservatives at an election this year, replacing a “miserabilist Tory project” with one offering hope.
Starmer, whose party holds a hefty double-digit lead in opinion polls, used a speech in southwestern England to make a personal appeal to voters and to set out how his party would change Britain.
He pledged to build new homes, create jobs and put more money in working people’s pockets, although the speech was light on specific policy detail.
The Labour leader also offered some insight into how the party, which has been in opposition for 14 years, will not only tackle what should be a divisive election but its fears that voters will just not turn out.
After years of infighting over Brexit, the removal of four prime ministers in six years and scandals during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, voters have become increasingly disaffected with politics in a country once known for its stability.
It is a problem Starmer and his team are well aware of, and one which they fear could hamper their attempts to win a commanding majority in an election Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said should happen, “on his working assumption”, in the second half of this year.
“I have to warn you all, they (the Conservatives) will leave no stone unturned this year. Every opportunity for division will be exploited for political potential,” he told an audience at a technology centre in the English city of Bristol.
“To truly defeat this miserabilist Tory project, we must crush their politics of divide and decline with a new ‘Project Hope’.”
“And the choice now, at the next election is so clear, which is between 14 years of decline and a decade of national renewal,” he said, again suggesting Labour wanted to win at least two five-year terms in government.
Starmer accused Sunak’s Conservative Party of putting in place policies to squeeze public finances and make it harder for any incoming Labour government to succeed.
But he promised this year to battle them on what was once seen as one of their traditional strengths – the economy, which despite Sunak’s promise to spur growth, is now stagnating.
“They still think in some fantasy land that this is strong territory for them. They don’t realise how much we’ve turned the tables. They don’t realise just how poor a card that is for them to play,” he said.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Toby Chopra)