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Sunak: Tories can win General Election but people’s frustration ‘undeniable’

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (left) and Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary Claire Coutinho are given a tour of the Rough 47/3B Bravo gas platform by the chief executive of Centrica Chris O’Shea (Leon Neal/PA)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (left) and Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary Claire Coutinho are given a tour of the Rough 47/3B Bravo gas platform by the chief executive of Centrica Chris O’Shea (Leon Neal/PA)

Rishi Sunak has insisted the Tories can still win the General Election after Cabinet minister Grant Shapps said a Conservative victory is unlikely.

The Prime Minister said he understands people’s frustrations but gave a more optimistic assessment of his party’s chances than the Defence Secretary, who said that to claim the Tories are on course for a win would be to “try and pretend black is white”.

As the party continues to languish behind Labour in the polls, he said Sir Keir Starmer lacked “the courage of his convictions” and suggested his rival would find the job in Downing Street “hard to do well”.

Asked during a huddle with journalists on the Tory battlebus about what he thought of his political opponent, the Prime Minister said: “What I’d say is Keir Starmer is someone who clearly doesn’t have the courage of his convictions.

“He also is not prioritising investment in our country’s security. I think that is deeply concerning as someone who’s sat in this job for 18 months, at a time when the world is more dangerous and uncertain than it’s been since the end of the Cold War, having just come back from the G7 and a peace summit about Ukraine in Switzerland.

“It’s obvious that the world is incredibly dangerous and for someone who wants to be prime minister of our country not to prioritise investing more our country’s security I find deeply concerning.”

Mr Sunak’s comments came as Nigel Farage launched Reform UK’s “contract” with voters to add to the Conservatives’ woes.

Labour has an average 20-point poll lead over the past week – on 41% ahead of the Tories on 21% and Reform on 15%.

Speaking during a visit to a Centrica gas rig earlier on Monday, the Prime Minister said: “There’s still two-and-a-half weeks to go in this election, I’m fighting hard for every vote because I believe we can win.

“And there’s a very clear choice at this election: it’s having your taxes cut by the Conservatives or facing significant tax rises with the Labour Party.”

POLITICS Election Polls
(PA Graphics)

Asked if he understands people’s frustrations with the Tory Party, with some voters deciding to turn to Reform UK, he replied: “Of course I understand people’s frustrations with that – I mean that’s undeniable, and I’ve been very clear that we have made progress, but there is more to go.

“But the point now is we are on the right track and this election is about the future.”

Mr Shapps earlier told Times Radio it is “possible to win the election”, but conceded it is “not the most likely outcome”, adding: “I’m a realist.”

Asked if a Tory victory is unlikely, he replied: “I think that’s the realistic position, isn’t it? I mean, I live in the real world. So, you know, let’s not try and pretend black is white.”

General Election campaign 2024
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeve on a visit to Southampton (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Meanwhile, Labour accused Jeremy Hunt of “admitting” pledges in the Conservative manifesto are “completely unfunded” after the BBC reported the Chancellor last week said that promised tax cuts would be funded by savings from a back-to-work programme announced in the autumn statement.

In a sign of the campaign intensifying as it enters its fourth week, shadow paymaster general Jonathan Ashworth put a copy of the Tory document into a shredder at a hastily arranged press conference in London, claiming that is what Mr Hunt had done to the Conservatives’ economic credibility.

The Tories have set out plans for billions in tax cuts, which they claim would be paid for by £12 billion of savings on welfare.

Mr Sunak’s visit to a Centrica platform in the North Sea came as Mr Farage was setting out Reform’s plans – which he suggested were the first step on the path to a potential election win in 2029.

Mr Farage added: “Our ambition is to establish a bridgehead in Parliament, and to become a real opposition to a Labour government.”

He said the Tories would not be able to provide opposition because “they spend most of their days arguing among themselves, and they’re split down the middle when it comes to policy”.

In other developments:

– Reform set out a four-point plan for immigration including: leaving the European Convention on Human Rights, allowing zero illegal immigrants to settle in the UK, establishing a new “Department of Immigration” and returning migrants who come over in boats to France.

– Labour claimed Chancellor Jeremy Hunt had driven a “coach and horses” through the Tory’s manifesto promises by saying that a £12 billion squeeze on welfare which the Conservatives plan to use to fund tax cuts had already been announced and factored in to the existing government finances.

– Scotland’s First Minister John Swinney said the SNP will include a social tariff on energy, broadband and mobile bills in its manifesto this week.

Labour intends to spend the week focusing on its plans for the economy, with shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves joining Sir Keir on the campaign trail.

Sir Keir used a visit to a port in Southampton to say that a renegotiated Brexit deal could remove “an inhibitor” to economic growth.

General Election campaign 2024
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves and shadow secretary of state for business and trade Jonathan Reynolds met business leaders on Monday morning at the start of a campaign week focusing on the economy (Lucy North/PA)

He said: “We took a decision to leave the EU, so we are not going to go back in. But we think the deal we’ve got is botched, it’s not good enough and I think many businesses would say: ‘We need something that works better for us.’”

Ms Reeves used a Financial Times interview to suggest she would seek to revise parts of Boris Johnson’s 2020 Brexit deal by seeking closer alignment with EU rules in the chemicals and veterinary sectors, better touring rights for UK artists, and greater mutual recognition of qualifications for financial services workers.

The Labour frontbencher also pledged to “hit the ground running to show that Britain is open for business” by holding a global investment summit in the first 100 days of entering government.

She met members of her British infrastructure council on Monday morning to discuss attracting foreign investors who have been put off by political instability in the UK.