Labour leader hits back at ‘Sir Sleepy’ jibes

Sir Keir Starmer hit back at accusations he lacked the energy for the General Election campaign, saying he had been smiling since the start of the year at the prospect of a public vote.

Conservatives claimed on Sunday the Labour leader does not have the “stamina” to campaign, saying he had been “resting at home”, although pictures later emerged of Sir Keir meeting voters in Brighton.

Speaking at a campaign event in Lancing, West Sussex, on Monday, Sir Keir dismissed the claims as “desperate”.

He said: “I’ve had a smile on my face since January 1 2024 because I knew this was going to be an election year.

“I’ve wasted nine years of my life in opposition. I’ve worked four-and-a-half years to change this Labour Party, and now I’ve got the chance to take that to the country.

“So we’re doing that not only with energy, but with a smile, with positivity across all of our candidates as we go into this election.”

General Election announcement
Sir Keir Starmer said it was ‘farcical’ for Rishi Sunak to claim to be the only person with a plan after ‘standing in the rain without an umbrella’ (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

In seeking to make 61-year-old Sir Keir’s age an issue, Conservative strategists have appeared to emulate US presidential candidate Donald Trump’s attacks on 81-year-old president Joe Biden.

Mr Trump has repeatedly characterised his opponent as “Sleepy Joe”, while one Tory aide has reportedly described Sir Keir as “Sir Sleepy”, in contrast to the younger Rishi Sunak.

On the same theme, Tory chairman Richard Holden described Sir Keir’s speech on Monday as “wearisome and rambling”.

Taking questions from the media after his speech in Lancing, the Labour leader also took aim at Mr Sunak, saying it was “farcical” for someone who had been “standing in the rain without an umbrella” to claim he was the only person with a plan.

The Prime Minister’s key campaign messages have so far focused on the Conservatives having a “clear plan” for the country while claiming Labour has “no plan”.

Mr Sunak distanced himself from the Tory attacks on Sir Keir.

The 44-year-old Prime Minister said “the substance is what matters” following the comments about his rival.

Mr Sunak told reporters: “I’m interested in getting out and about across the country.

“We’re a few days into this, we’ve been in the East Midlands, the West Midlands, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, here in the South East today, talking to people – parents – about the future.

“The substance is what matters at this election, it’s a choice about the future.”

He added: “When it comes to Keir Starmer, that’s the choice that’s on offer – no ideas, no plan and you don’t deliver a better future, you don’t deliver any change, without those things.”