Election campaign day 28: Price pressures ease but is it too late for Tories?

The rate of inflation has fallen again but analysts believe it has come too late for a pre-election interest rate cut.

– It is the economy stupid – but is it too late for the PM?

Rishi Sunak enjoyed a rare slice of good news as the latest official figures showed inflation has finally fallen back to the Government’s target.

The Office for National Statistics said the annual rate of price rises in May dropped to 2%, its lowest in almost three years, and down from the 40 year high of 11.1% when Mr Sunak entered No 10 in October 22.

The Prime Minister hailed the fall as proof his plan for the economy was finally working after a “really tough” few years for the country.

Rishi Sunak in white hard hat and ear defenders stands pointing with a worker in the turbine room at Sizewell B
Rishi Sunak in the turbine room at Sizewell B (James Manning/PA)

“We’ve stuck to a plan, we’ve taken the action needed, it wasn’t always easy, but we’ve got there,” he said.

Whether voters will be in any mood to give him and his party any credit after the painful squeeze on incomes may be another matter.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said that he hoped the Bank of England could now start cutting interest rates, providing some-much needed relief for hard-pressed homeowners.

“Now we have inflation down, taxes starting to come down and, hopefully soon, mortgages coming down as well,” he said.

The Bank’s monetary policy committee, responsible for setting rates, meets on Thursday but the consensus among City experts was that they will want wait at least another month before taking any action.

Which suggests Mr Sunak will have to look elsewhere for salvation.

– Picture of the day

Lucia Hunt, wife of Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, Akshata Murty wife of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Culture Secretary  Lucy Frazer and Susie Cleverly wife of Home Secretary James Cleverly walking together along a street
Lucia Hunt, wife of Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, Akshata Murty wife of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer and Susie Cleverly wife of Home Secretary James Cleverly out campaigning in Fordham, Suffolk (Chris Radburn/PA)

– Independence page one

First Minister John Swinney has fulfilled a pledge to that Scottish independence would be on page one one of the SNP’s election manifesto.

The document reaffirms its commitment to seeking a fresh referendum, stating straightforwardly enough: “Vote SNP for Scotland to become an independent country.”

John Swinney speaking from behind a podium
First Minister John Swinney at the launch of the SNP’s manifesto (Jane Barlow/PA)

Mr Swinney was however less clear what would happen on the independence issue if, as the polls suggests, the SNP loses its majority among Scottish MPs at Westminster to Labour.

“I think people in Scotland should have their democratic wishes respected,” he told journalists at the party’s launch event in Edinburgh.

“In this election, if people want to intensify the pressure for that (a second referendum) be the case, then their opportunity is to vote for the Scottish National Party to make that happen.”

– Quote of the day

– Billionaires desert Tories

Mr Sunak is, understandably, somewhat miffed at the latest defections to the among the mega-rich to the Labour cause.

Manchester United co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Phones4U founder John Caudwell are among those to have declared their support for the team in red.

Head and shoulders shot of John Caudwell court case
Phones4U founder John Caudwell is backing Labour (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

On Tuesday, Mr Caudwell, a former Tory donor, invited the BBC in to his Mayfair home to explain why he was now backing Sir Keir Starmer saying he believed Mr Sunak was a “dud”.

Asked about the duo’s new allegiance during an LBC radio phone-in, the Prime Minister replied caustically: “They’re two of Britain’s richest men. They can probably afford Labour’s tax rises.”

During an at times bruising encounter with voters, Mr Sunak was accused by one listener of being a “poundshop Nigel Farage” who was “obsessed with divisive culture wars” because of his stance on trans issues.

“I’m very sorry to hear you feel that way,” he replied.

– Hunt on a knife edge

Jeremy Hunt may be hoping the latest fall in inflation heralds a cut in interest rates – but he acknowledged that he may not return to Westminster to see it happen.

The Chancellor acknowledged that boundary changes meant he faced a tough fight if he was to win the newly created seat of Godalming and Ash in Surrey.

Lib Dem deputy leader Daisy Cooper with activists holding  Lib Dem placards
Deputy leader Daisy Cooper campaigning in Godalming and Ash where the Lib Dems are fighting to defeat Jeremy Hunt (Will Durrant/PA)

“I’m fighting for every vote. I think that I can win the seat. But I don’t take anything for granted,” he said.

“It is on a knife edge. And that’s what I’m knocking on doors for, six hours every day, meeting lots of people, making the arguments.”

Also out campaigning in the constituency was Daisy Cooper, the deputy leader of Liberal Democrats who harbour high hopes of taking the seat, leaving Mr Hunt looking for new employment after July 4.

“The Conservatives have to go. The Conservative Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has to go,” she declared.

– Labour’s candidate blues

Reform UK is not the only party to find Mr Sunak’s rush to go to the country has left it with some problem candidates on its books.

Labour’s candidate for Aberdeenshire North and Moray East has been suspended after he was accused of “unacceptable” pro-Russian posts on social media.

Andy Brown was reported to have shared an article from Russian state media outlet RT questioning Moscow’s involvement in the Salisbury poisonings.

In 2018 former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were the targets of an attempted assassination using the Russian-made Novichok nerve agent.

A British woman, Dawn Sturgess, subsequently died after picking up a discarded perfume bottle which had contained the poison.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said they had taken “swift action” once they became aware of Mr Brown’s posts.

“New information came to light to us last night and within hours this candidate was suspended pending an investigation. I think that’s right thing for us to do,” he said.

– Social media moment

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak found an unconventional way to inform voters about how inflation has returned to the 2% target for the first time in almost three years.

In a TikTok video, Mr Sunak who was speaking from Sizewell power plant in Leiston, Suffolk, stacked Coca-Cola cans on top of each other to demonstrate that inflation was “all the way up here at 11% – far too high” when he became Prime Minister.

Mr Sunak then showed one can next to the tower of drinks to compare the rate of inflation saying: “Today, we got the news inflation is here – all the way back to normal at 2%.”

Users online were quick to comment with many asking Mr Sunak why their weekly shop remains expensive despite inflation rates dropping.

One user said: “Then why has my weekly shop gone up to £90 the past 7 years when it used to be £50? Why has my electric and gas bill gone up by £150 a month?”

– What the polls say

Three opinion polls have been published in the past 24 hours, all of which show Labour maintaining a comfortable lead and Reform several points behind the Conservatives.

A line chart showing the seven-day rolling average for political parties in opinion polls from February 19 to June 19, with the final point showing Labour on 42%, Conservatives 21%, Reform 16%, Lib Dems 11% and Green 5%. Source: PA graphic
(PA Graphics)

A poll by Savanta puts Labour 19 percentage points ahead of the Tories, Focaldata has Labour 22 points ahead while Survation gives Labour a 21-point lead.

An average of all polls that were carried out wholly or partly during the seven days to June 19 puts Labour on 42%, 21 points ahead of the Conservatives on 21%, followed by Reform on 16%, the Lib Dems on 11% and the Greens on 5%.

– What is happening tomorrow?

The Bank of England’s monetary policy committee announces its decision on interest rates at midday.

Rishi Sunak, Sir Keir Starmer, John Swinney and Sir Ed Davey are appearing on a BBC Question Time election special.