Election campaign day 33: Sunak and Starmer rapped for spending pledges

Election campaign day 33: Sunak and Starmer rapped for spending pledges

The Conservatives and Labour have been accused by the Institute for Fiscal Studies of a “conspiracy of silence” over the financial challenges facing the country after the election.

– Black marks for the manifestos

There comes a point in every election campaign when – like schoolchildren submitting their homework for marking – the parties have to endure the wonks at the IFS running the rule over their manifesto tax and spending pledges to see if their sums add up.

And to say that headmaster Paul Johnson was unimpressed would be an understatement – “could do better” did not begin to cover it as both the Tories and Labour received a caning for failing to come clean about the scale of the challenges facing whoever gets to form the next government.

– Quote of the day

He gave short shrift to claims their manifestos were “fully costed”, bluntly warning that a ballooning welfare bill and the rising cost of government borrowing would leave the parties with a stark choice – raise taxes by more than they have said they would or cut public services.

“Add in low growth and the after-effects of the pandemic and the energy price crisis and you’ve got a pretty toxic mix for the public finances,” he said.

“That means the government needs to collect more in tax and other revenues than it spends on everything apart from that debt interest bill. That’s not necessarily a recipe for a happy electorate.”

If the smaller parties sitting at the back of the class thought they could avoid the headmaster’s beady eye, they were swiftly disabused of the notion.

Reform UK and the Greens were taken to task for boasting of “much bigger numbers” and “very exciting radical policies” safe in the knowledge they would never be called upon to deliver them, but nevertheless still helping to “poison” the political debate.

“It makes the other parties look feeble when you say ‘We could do all this stuff’. They can’t,” Mr Johnson said.

– Badenoch’s leadership talk

With polls continuing to point to a Conservative defeat on July 4, there are further signs that senior figures in the party are beginning to look to what happens the day after.

Kemi Badenoch in front of a Union Jack backdrop
Kemi Badenoch said leadership talk should wait until after polling day (Peter Nicholls/PA)

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch, seen as a potential frontrunner to replace Rishi Sunak if he loses, hinted at her continuing ambitions for the top job, saying that after the election would be the time to talk about “leadership things”.

Ms Badenoch, who stood unsuccessfully for the leadership after Boris Johnson was forced out in 2022, insisted that she was focused on defeating Labour – at least for now.

“The fact of the matter is, I stood and I lost. And what terrifies me now is not not becoming leader, it is seeing Labour come in,” she said when asked about her leadership hopes.

“We need to focus on this election. The choice is going to be between us or between them. Be afraid if it is them, is all I would say. And we will talk about leadership things after an election, but not before.”

– Picture of the day

Nigel Farage speaking into a microphone on top of an open top bus alongside a poster showing a 2016 front page of the i newspaper with the headline 'Boris blames EU for war in Ukraine'
Nigel Farage campaigning in Kent on the top deck of an open top bus (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

– At least I’m in the clear, says Sunak

Rishi Sunak’s efforts to get the Tories’ faltering campaign back on track continue to be dogged by the polling day betting scandal.

Over the weekend it emerged that another senior Conservative official was facing questions over bets placed on a July election in the days before the Prime Minister announced he was going to the country.

It took to four the number of individuals now implicated in the allegations being probed by the Gambling Commission – including two of the party’s candidates now standing for election.

Rishi Sunak speaking in front of a Blue Conservative campaign backdrop with the slogan 'Focused on your priorities'
Rishi Sunak at the launch of the Scottish Conservative manifesto in Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA)

With the opposition parties pressing the Tories to come clean on just how widely the commission is investigating, Mr Sunak was able to reassure journalists that there was at least one person in the clear: himself.

The Prime Minister said that in all his time as an MP he had never placed a bet on politics and that his family was similarly in the clear.

“(The Gambling Commission) don’t talk about the individuals that they are investigating,” he told reporters on the campaign trail in Edinburgh.

“What I can tell you is I am not aware of any other candidate that they are looking at.”

Senior Tories remain deeply unhappy at the way the controversy continues to overshadow their campaign efforts, with former defence minister Tobias Ellwood warning it was a “deeply unhelpful, self-inflicted distraction” which could cost them seats.

– Farage’s Boris grudge

Nigel Farage has long nursed a sense of grievance that Boris Johnson has never given him the credit he believes he deserves for securing the Brexit vote in the 2016 referendum.

In the 2019 general election he stood down Brexit Party (as Reform UK was then known) candidates in seats being defended by the Tories, helping clear the way for a Conservative landslide.

And yet he received nary a phone call – let alone an invitation to drop round to No 10 for a cuppa – from the former prime minister.

So he seems to have been particularly stung when Mr Johnson joined the attack on his controversial claim that the West was responsible for provoking Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, branding his comments “morally repugnant” and “more Kremlin propaganda”.

Mr Farage hit back calling him “a liar and a hypocrite” and producing a blown up poster of the i newspaper’s front page from May 2016, with the headline “Boris blames EU for war in Ukraine”.

“Perhaps it’s Boris Johnson that’s morally repugnant and not me, I don’t know. But can you see the sheer level of hypocrisy?” he said. “This man will go down as the worst prime minister of modern times.”

Meanwhile the former head of the Army, General Lord Dannatt, became the latest senior figure to criticise the Reform leader’s remarks, saying: “As far as I’m concerned, Nigel Farage doesn’t have a point worth listening to about anything.”

– Hunt’s faux pas

Jeremy Hunt could be one of the biggest casualties on the night if the pollsters’ predictions of a Labour landslide prove to be correct.

Jeremy Hunt in suit ,collar and tie
Jeremy Hunt hurriedly deleted social media post (James Manning/PA)

The pressure on the Chancellor from the Liberal Democrats in the redrawn seat of Godalming and Ash may account for his blunder in sharing online a picture of his wife with a pen hovering over his name on her postal ballot paper.

The posting – with the caption “Marriage safe … got the wife’s vote” – was hurriedly deleted after it was pointed out that guidance from the Electoral Commission made clear it was potentially an offence to share how someone else voted.

“These laws are enforced by the police,” a commission spokesman said sternly.

– Social media moment

Labour capitalised on the Tories’ troubles by posting numerous social media posts related to the ongoing betting scandal.

One TikTok featuring a series of memes reads “the British public when they hear of more Tory scandals” over a close-up of a cartoon face with the text “disappointed but not surprised”.

A post on X, formerly Twitter, shows a teenager with veins bulging on his face, captioned “Tories trying not to break the rules they make”.

– What the polls are saying

Two opinion polls have been published in the past 24 hours, both of which show Labour well ahead of the Conservatives and Reform in third place.

Savanta gives Labour a 23-percentage point lead, while the latest poll by Opinium puts the party 20 points ahead.

A line chart showing the seven-day rolling average for political parties in opinion polls from February 24 to June 24, with the final point showing Labour on 40%, Conservatives 20%, Reform 18%, Lib Dems 11% and Green 6%. Source: PA graphic
(PA Graphics)

An average of all polls with survey work completed during the seven days to June 24 puts Labour on 40%, 20 points ahead of the Conservatives on 20%, followed by Reform UK on 18%, the Liberal Democrats on 11% and the Greens on 6%.

Reform is up on the figures for the previous week, while Labour and the Tories are both down.

– What’s happening tomorrow

Home Secretary James Cleverly and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper go head-to-head in a debate on immigration.

Mr Sunak is expected to take time off the campaign trail for the state visit of Emperor Naruhito of Japan.