Sunak stresses optimism despite ‘storms ahead’ in pre-election pitch to voters

Voters will have a choice between the Conservatives’ “optimistic” view of the future and Labour’s “doomsterism” later this year, the Prime Minister said in a pre-election pitch to voters.

In a speech to the Policy Exchange think tank on Monday, Rishi Sunak sought to portray himself as the best person to lead the UK through a period of great danger and great opportunity.

He said he remained “confident” that his party could win the general election as it was “the only party really talking about the future” and offering “bold ideas and a clear plan” rather than “lofty platitudes”.

Polls continue to suggest the Tories are on course to lose the coming election, which Mr Sunak said would happen in the second half of the year, with Labour’s average lead remaining around 20 points.

The Prime Minister’s wide-ranging address warned of threats over the next five years from an “axis of authoritarian powers” including China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, extremists seeking to sow division at home, fears about new technologies such as artificial intelligence and global forces imperilling people’s financial security.

He said: “People want to know that they have got someone in charge who understands these dangers, because only if you understand what’s happening can you be trusted to keep us safe.”

Turning to Labour, he suggested Britain would be less safe under Sir Keir Starmer and a win for the opposition would “embolden” Vladimir Putin as Labour had not matched his pledge to increase defence spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2030.

Labour has said it wants to raise defence spending to 2.5% of GDP, but has not set a date for achieving that target.

Local elections
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said the Conservative Government was ‘out of touch’ and urged the Prime Minister to call a general election (Yui Mok/PA)

Saying Labour had “no plans”, the Prime Minister added: “They have just one thing: a calculation that they can make you feel so bad about your country, that you won’t have the energy to ask what they might do with the incredible power that they seek to yield.”

Mr Sunak acknowledged that the public felt “anxious and uncertain”, but denied that this was all due to “14 years of Conservative government” and that a change in Westminster would make Britain’s problems “magically disappear”.

But while he painted a picture of a difficult period ahead, the Prime Minister also pointed to significant opportunities presented by transformational technologies such as AI, adding it was “incumbent upon us to make this a period not just of great danger but of great progress too”.

He said Britain’s record as a trading, innovative and entrepreneurial nation meant that “while this is one of the most dangerous periods we’ve ever known, it will also be one of the most transformational and if we make the right choices”.

Mr Sunak concluded: “There are storms ahead. The dangers are all too real, but Britain can feel proud again, Britain can feel confident again, because with bold action and a clear plan, we can and we will create a secure future.”

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves in Three Squares Cafe in Skinnergate, Darlington, during a visit to Teesside to meet local shop keepers, business owners and families, and discuss the cost of living on the first pay day since the Tory tax changes. Picture date: Friday April 26, 2024.
The Prime Minister suggested Britain would be less safe under Sir Keir Starmer and a win for the opposition would ’embolden’ Vladimir Putin (Owen Humphreys/PA)

He said: “After 14 years of leaving the country less secure at home and abroad, the Tories have forfeited the right to talk about security.

“Millions of people are paying more on their mortgages, crime is going unsolved, dangerous prisoners are being let out early, the armed forces have been hollowed out and the NHS is on its knees.

“That is this Government’s record and the only way to turn the page and end the chaos is with a Labour government.”

Responding to the speech, Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ed Davey said Mr Sunak should call a general election.

He said: “Families are sick of the Conservatives failing our NHS, allowing water companies to pump their sewage into our rivers and refusing to help families through the cost of living crisis.

“This Conservative Government is out of touch and out of time and Rishi Sunak must do the right thing and give the people a general election.”

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