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No surprises on tax in Labour manifesto, Sir Keir Starmer says

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, during a Sky News election event with Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby, in Grimsby (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, during a Sky News election event with Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby, in Grimsby (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Labour’s manifesto will contain no surprises on tax, Sir Keir Starmer has said as he sought to calm nerves about the possibility of shock costs to voters in his soon-to-be-unveiled full General Election offer.

Rishi Sunak meanwhile continued to insist he will “keep fighting hard until the last day of this election” after the embattled Prime Minister was forced to say he had not lost hope of winning the contest.

Both party leaders faced jeers and tough questions from audience members as they took part in Sky News’ Battle For No 10 programme, with Mr Sunak booed after claiming the junior doctors’ strike had an impact on NHS waiting lists, while Sir Keir was branded a “political robot”.

The Labour leader was pressed about whether his party would consider hiking fuel duty or capital gains tax to raise more cash for the public purse, after he already ruled out raising income tax, national insurance, or VAT in the next parliament.

Labour’s election manifesto is set to be published on Thursday, but the party has stressed there will be little in it that has not already been announced.

“We’re going to unveil our manifesto tomorrow – no tax surprises, there’s going to be no need to raise tax on the plans we’re setting out,” Sir Keir said at the broadcast event in Grimsby hosted by Sky News.

Asked if he would rule out fuel duty rises, Sir Keir said Labour had supported a freeze on the tax “every single time it has come up”.

When put to him that increasing capital gains tax to the same level as income tax would raise £14 billion a year, he said: “That is not in our manifesto. That is not a choice we are making.

“It will not be unveiled tomorrow. There are no surprises in our manifesto, because our manifesto is a manifesto for growth.”

Asked if his party had a trust issue with voters because he had changed his position on various things, Sir Keir said: “No, because what I would say is this – I decided it must be country first, so every decision after that I judged previous decisions, previous positions and I said ‘Is this truly country first, party second?’; if the answer to that was ‘no’ then I changed the position and dragged my party back to the service of working people.”

One audience member accused the Labour leader of being a “political robot”, and said he had lost a sense of being “in touch” with the public over the past year.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak addresses the audience with his arms outstretched during a Sky News election event
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak addresses the audience during a Sky News election event with Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby in Grimsby (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Sir Keir said he did not apologise for changing the Labour Party after being asked how he could win over voters he had lost.

“You don’t seem to answer the question,” the man replied.

Mr Sunak meanwhile faced laughter from the audience when he claimed inflation “was always meant to come down over time” after his entry into No 10.

He was also asked about rising NHS waiting lists, up to 7.54 million from the 7.21 million level when he pledged to cut them.

“That was something that I was keen to do, and it has proved more difficult for a number of reasons, obviously recovering from a pandemic is not easy,” he said.

The Prime Minister faced groans and boos when he said: “I think everyone knows the impact the industrial action has had, that’s why we haven’t made as much (progress).”

In the first question from the audience about the high mortgage rates first-time buyers might face, Mr Sunak was accused of spoiling the “hopes and dreams” of young people hoping to own a home.

Answering the question from Ian from Grimsby, the Prime Minister said “inflation is down” and repeated his promise to “abolish stamp duty for first-time buyers like your daughter buying homes up to £425,000”.

Asked what is going wrong for the Tories, he told Sky News: “Well, I’ve got to say it hasn’t been an easy 18 months in general but what I’ve done though is just keep going to try and do my best for people and that’s what I’m doing in this campaign.”Mr Sunak said he believes the country has “turned a corner”, adding: “We’ve got a clear plan for the future to make a difference to people – to cut their taxes, bring down immigration, to protect pensions.”

He added he will continue to “keep fighting hard until the last day of this election”, and reiterated his apology for his “mistake” of leaving D-Day commemorations early.

Speaking after the programme, Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth suggested Mr Sunak looked downtrodden during the show.

“I don’t know who was here with Rishi Sunak tonight, but somebody really should have thrown a towel on the stage frankly,” he said.

Farming minister Mark Spencer meanwhile gave the Prime Minister eight out of 10 for his performance during the Sky News election interview on Wednesday night.

Asked what score he would give Mr Sunak in Grimsby, he said: “I think he was a good eight.”

The two leaders’ grilling by Sky News and an audience of voters came after a day in which the Prime Minister was forced to insist he had “absolutely not” lost hope of winning the General Election as Tory allies warned about the risk of Labour winning a “supermajority”.

Mr Sunak warned against giving Sir Keir a “blank cheque” if he won power, following suggestions by Defence Secretary Grant Shapps the Tories were now fighting to prevent a 1997-style Labour landslide.