Mason: Starmer seeks new year boost before 2024 election

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By Chris Mason, political editor
BBC News

Politics is waking from its Christmassy slumber.

And I know what you are thinking: never mind all the noise, tell me when the general election is going to be.

Well, I would if I could, but I can’t – because we don’t know for sure.

Plenty think the autumn is most likely, but it may be sooner. Or later. It could feel like rather a long year.

Every year, at this time of year, political leaders do that ‘casting ahead’ thing.

They try to channel that sentiment some of us entertain for at least a few weeks when the calendar turns from one year to the next – the whole resolutions, fresh start vibe.

And when you are an opposition party, and we are in the year of a general election campaign, as we now are, that is a feeling you want to tap into.

Labour leader Keir Starmer is trying to do exactly that with a speech on Thursday in a marginal seat near Bristol.

Don’t expect any new policies. There won’t be any. Instead, he is arguing he is taking on two opponents this year.

Firstly, as you would expect, the Conservatives.

And secondly, what he perceives to be a lethargy, a cynicism, an anti-politics mood, that leads many people to conclude no one can make a difference to the big challenges society faces.

Predictably, he will say that is not right, because he will claim that he can.

He will say voters are “right to be anti-Westminster,” but argue they will have a chance this year to “reject the pointless populist gestures and the low-road cynicism that the Tories believe is all you deserve”.

He will attack the Conservatives’ record in power – saying they have “nothing good to show” after 14 years in office, adding: “They can’t change Britain, so they try to undermine the possibility of change itself”.

In response, Conservative Party Chairman Richard Holden says Starmer is a “weather vane” who will tell the public “whatever he thinks they want to hear on any given day”.

Welcome to 2024. There will be plenty more where this comes from, from all sides.

Sunak talks tax

So what of Rishi Sunak?

The prime minister will also be out and about today, in the East Midlands, visiting a school and a community centre.

He is not giving a speech, but is expected to do a question and answer session with members of the public.

His team think this is a format in which he is comfortable and convincing – expect to see him doing plenty more of these sessions in the coming months.

He wants to talk about tax: the cut to National Insurance announced in the autumn kicks in on Saturday.

Expect Labour to counter that this tax cut doesn’t make up for all the tax rises.

Commanding attention

And all this after the Liberal Democrats and Reform UK did their new year thing.

If you are one of the smaller parties, commanding attention is 99% of the political challenge.

The Lib Dems embrace this reality by throwing subtlety into the sea.

Leader Sir Ed Davey turned up in Guildford in Surrey dressed up as a removal man claiming he was a “Tory removal service”.

The outfits and the script lines suggest pantomime season isn’t over yet. But being very literal and more than a little over the top can help get a message across.

Ed Davey used a removal van to demonstrate his electoral hopes for the year ahead

For Reform UK, which used to be called the Brexit Party and was led by one Nigel Farage, they engineered a splash of jeopardy by hinting Mr Farage might turn up to their start of the year news conference.

It turned out – unsurprisingly – that he didn’t.

Those of us in the basement of a hotel in Westminster heard instead from party leader Richard Tice, with the teased possibility that Nigel Farage might get stuck in nearer polling day.

From their perspective, not playing the Farage card too soon was probably wise. There is, in all likelihood, a reasonable chance there is a fair old way to go until the election campaign itself.

The opposition parties, as you would expect, are all demanding an election now, or soon – desperate to portray Rishi Sunak as running away from the electorate if he holds off until later in the year.

But the prime minister has until mid-December to pick a date of his own choosing.

It is a vital power, in his hands only, that will shape and define the political year ahead.

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