UK election 2024: PM Sunak pledges tax cuts as Conservatives try to trim Labour’s lead in polls

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged to cut 17 billion pounds (US$21.7 billion) of taxes for working people if re-elected, launching a final throw of the dice to overturn polls that put him on course for a heavy defeat in Britain’s July 4 election.

With surveys showing the Conservatives consistently about 20 points behind Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, Sunak sought to win over workers and pensioners with tax cuts in his party’s manifesto which he said would be funded by lower welfare spending, a clamp down on tax avoidance and greater public service efficiencies.

The 44-year-old former investment banker acknowledged that people were frustrated with him, and his previous pledges have been met by scepticism as to why the party failed to do more to tackle deep-seated problems during its 14 years in power.

Britain’s tax burden has risen to its highest as a share of the economy since just after World War II due to the twin shocks of the Covid pandemic and energy price spikes, and failing public services have created a sense of malaise.

But Sunak argued that the economy was finally recovering and if re-elected he would cut payroll taxes for workers to reignite economic growth further. He accuses the centre-left Labour Party of planning to increase taxes to fund its promises, a charge it denies.

Rishi Sunak, UK prime minister, launches the Conservative Party general election manifesto in Silverstone, UK, on Tuesday. Photo: Bloomberg

“I’m not blind to the fact that people are frustrated with our party and frustrated with me,” Sunak said at the launch of the Conservatives’ manifesto, setting out its future policy pledges.

“Things have not always been easy, and we have not got everything right, but we are the only party in this election with the big ideas to make our country a better place to live.”

Tax promise

Under the plan launched on Tuesday at the Formula One racetrack Silverstone in central England, Sunak said taxes would be cut by 17.2 billion pounds a year by 2029/30, while welfare spending would be cut by 12 billion pounds a year.

Tackling tax avoidance and evasion would deliver another 6 billion pounds each year, it said.

In the past, promises to cut the welfare bill by similar amounts – notably by former finance minister George Osborne in 2015 – failed to materialise.

Sunak also promised to halve migration numbers, build more houses and provide financial support for first-time homebuyers.

But so far, Sunak’s message has failed to dent the Labour lead.

Keir Starmer’s Labour Party is leading the Conservative Party by about 20 points in election polls. Photo: TNS

Previous tax cuts have failed to move the dial for Sunak, and polls show many voters want change and greater investment in public services.

The public are still grappling with a 21 per cent surge in shop prices in the last three years, and fallout from the chaotic tenure of Sunak’s predecessor Liz Truss, whose economic policies led to higher borrowing costs and mortgage rate rises.

The Conservatives also now face a challenge from the right-wing Reform UK party, which, under the leadership of Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, has vowed to lead a “revolt” against the Conservatives.

And Sunak has been on the back foot since he left D-Day commemorations in France early to give an election interview, angering veterans and prompting members of his own party to question his abilities. He has since repeatedly apologised.

Labour will launch its manifesto on Thursday.

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