With Britain’s new Prime Minister Liz Truss facing a storm over her plans for the economy, the pound plummeting and her Conservative Party trailing in the opinion polls, her opponents’ confidence could generally be as high as energy prices.
But as Labor leader Keir Starmer prepares to assert himself as prime minister-in-waiting, the pressure is also on him not to spoil the moment as he starts the clock on his campaign for power during the this week’s Labor Conference in Liverpool, North West England.
Starmer’s inner circle thinks Truss has prepared the ground for him well. On Friday, Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng announced the biggest tax giveaway in 50 years, benefiting the wealthy more than the poorer households that Labor promises to defend.
He has been castigated as irresponsible by groups not necessarily known to be in tune with each other – investors, economists and anti-poverty activists. The pound fell and government bonds staged their largest one-day sell-off. As one Starmer aide put it: the market has spoken.
It gives Labor a chance to present itself as the fiscally responsible party against the bawdy Tories – a reversal of old stereotypes. That would be tantamount to opposing tax cuts, but Starmer could argue that investing in public services is vital when inflation is near double digits.
He needs to raise the bar quickly, according to party insiders. The next election is scheduled for 2024, but it could be earlier if Truss’ plan fails.
“It should offer a real opportunity for Labour, but I fear it is also a clear and bold statement: ‘We are aiming for growth’,” said former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith of Truss tax plans. “And I’m not sure Labor has such a clear message yet.”
The challenge is to overcome the delicate electoral calculations by defining the kind of fresh vision that last won the party in the election, Tony Blair’s third consecutive victory in 2005. Some Labor members warn that the pro- Truss market also has its appeal The UK is sinking into an economic quagmire.
Behind the scenes, Labor MPs are campaigning for Starmer to make his mark with simple, eye-catching policies. Truss’ tax cuts might help. Anti-poverty group The Resolution Foundation has calculated that someone earning £200,000 ($218,520) will earn £5,220 a year while someone earning £20,000 will get £157.
At Labour’s four-day conference, Starmer, 60, will seek to hammer home his message that while economic growth is crucial, it must be felt by the poorest households. That’s the distinction he’ll repeatedly make, according to people familiar with the thought: growing the economy to score notches on a spreadsheet is pointless if ordinary Brits don’t feel the benefits.
While the economy is the number one focus of the conference, Starmer’s team also wants to shine a spotlight on “bread and butter” issues like health, education and crime. This is crucial, they say, at a time when questions arise over the funding of public services given rising borrowing costs and now the government’s energy bill subsidy and tax giveaways.
His basic speech was brought forward a day to Tuesday to release him on the final day of the conference, according to aides. A media blitz is planned to ensure the leader is on voters’ radars, not just party loyalists.
“This conference is probably going to be the big pivotal moment when Labor goes from being just an opposition party years away from a general election to an opposition party that is really focused on setting an alternative vision for the Great Britain,” said Chris Curtis. , head of political polls at Opinium.
Labor has enjoyed a comfortable lead in the polls over the Tories for most of 2022. The latest Opinium survey, after Truss took office, gave the party a five-point lead. Basically, the Labor Party has also been in the lead on the question of who is the best party to manage the economy.
That matters, Curtis said, because the Conservatives have traditionally won elections because of their handling of the economy. Blair’s landslide winning Labor power in 1997 followed his party’s abandonment of policies aimed at bringing certain industries back into government control, as well as moving closer to the City of London.
Still, it’s unclear how Truss, 47, will land with the public. She has only been in power since September 6 and the first two weeks of her premiership saw politics suspended following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
Smith, who co-presents the ‘For The Many’ political podcast, said Labor must now seize the opportunity this week to draw up its own plans to ease the cost of living. This has been lacking in recent weeks, she said, even though Labor had called for more state aid for energy bills long before Truss announced a package to cap prices for households.
“There may have been a missed opportunity to make news in August,” Smith said. “And that was before Truss became prime minister, so there was a void and I’m not sure we filled it the way we could have.”
The Tories have been in power since 2010, and victory next time around would be the first time they have won a fifth straight general election in nearly two centuries.
Still, the math for Labor is formidable, not least because it lost Scotland to the pro-independence Scottish National Party in 2015. The party would need to win a Blair-wide landslide in 1997 to win an absolute majority of one in the House of Commons. There is much more likely to be a looser coalition or deal with the Liberal Democrats, although Starmer ruled out any “arrangement” with them in a July interview with Bloomberg.
Starmer has come under fire for his public persona, particularly when faced with Truss’ showman predecessor Boris Johnson. Starmer’s allies, however, defend his lackluster personality. They think the former Director of Public Prosecutions is better suited to the job of statesman than leader of the opposition.
“He still has to prove to voters that he’s strong enough for the top job and still has a ways to go,” Curtis said. Partly it’s about presentation, he said, “but a lot of it is about Labor coming up with a strong enough vision for the country.”
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