Starmer backs attack ads as Sunak eyes autumn 2024 general election

Commentary Policy & Politics

Sir Keir Starmer said he makes “zero apologies” for Labour’s hard hitting attack ads explicitly targeting Rishi Sunak for being soft on child sex abusers and criminals.

Starmer chose the right-wing Daily Mail to defend the ads, writing in a column that he “makes no apologies at all” for the campaign despite accusations of engaging in “dog-whistle gutter politics”.

In a clear sign that Labour is prepared to fight dirty and continue its personal attack ads against the prime minister, Starmer penned a letter to his shadow cabinet colleagues telling them that voters must know that “Rishi Sunak’s fingerprints are all over their struggling household budgets”.

Starmer has clearly taken the gloves off with Labour looking to pummel the prime minister by continuing its controversial social media campaign. Starmer has shrugged off criticism, telling his shadow ministers to “relentlessly” expose “the failures of 13 years of this divided and weak Conservative government” in the run up to May’s local elections.

Having attacked the PM for being soft on punishing child sex abusers and gun crime, Labour is set to turn its attention to the cost of living crisis.

In his letter, Starmer writes: “Rishi Sunak is the chief architect of choices prioritising the wealthiest and of the government’s failure to get a grip of the economy and get growth going.”

The attack ads have seen a predictable backlash from Conservatives but senior Labour figures have also voiced their concerns and opposition. Former home secretary David Blunkett voiced his opposition to the campaign saying he’s been left “close to despair” by the “deeply offensive” ad which marks a descent into “gutter” politics.

Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott posted her disdain in a series of critical tweets about the attack ads while current shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell refused to endorse the ad that accused Sunak of not believing child sex offenders should go to jail. John McDonnell, the former shadow chancellor under Jeremy Corbyn said: “This is not the sort of politics a Labour Party, confident of its own values and preparing to govern, should be engaged in. I say to the people who have taken the decision to publish this ad, please withdraw it. We, the Labour Party, are better than this.”

However, Labour officials behind the campaign are cock-a-hoop with its impact. “It’s mission accomplished,” according to one senior source who told Sky News: “We’ve dominated the news agenda and started a serious conversation about the Tories appalling record on crime.”

While Labour has the prime minister in their crosshairs, Sunak is said to have targeted autumn 2024 for the date of the next general election. According to the Telegraph, “well-placed sources” believe “going late” will maximise the chance for economic improvement translating into Tory votes.

It will also give time for the PM’s controversial pledge to “stop the boats” to kick in with the Conservatives having a lot of work to do in the next 18-or-so months to convince voters. The Tories currently trail Labour by a massive 18 points – according to polling average trackers. That’s six points better than when Sunak took over but still far too big a gap to risk a spring 2024 general election.

Instead, the PM has pencilled in October or November – which will be two years since Sunak took over from Liz Truss in No 10. A November poll would also coincide with the next US presidential election while January 2025 is the latest a UK general election can be held.

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