Britain's July 4 election is fast approaching. Rishi Sunak is running out of time to change the tune

LONDON (AP) — With less than three weeks until U.K. election day, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is running out of time to change an ominous tune for his Conservative Party.

Sunak, who in recent days traveled to a Group of Seven summit and a Swiss conference on the Ukraine war, has been dogged by questions about whether voters are about to bring his time in office to an abrupt end on July 4.

Polls continue to give the left-of-center opposition Labour Party under Keir Starmer a double-digit lead over Sunak’s Conservatives, who have been in power for 14 years under five different prime ministers.

Sunak’s attempts to close the gap have had little apparent impact. The biggest splash he's made in the campaign so far was a gaffe – the prime minister’s decision to skip an international ceremony in France on June 6 marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. He has been apologizing ever since.

Commentators are starting to talk about doomsday scenarios for the Conservatives, who have governed Britain for almost two-thirds of the past 100 years and won 365 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons in the 2019 election.

University of Strathclyde politics professor John Curtice, one of Britain’s most respected polling experts, said that Conservative support is at its lowest point in U.K. polling history, and Sunak “must be beginning to doubt his decision to call the election early.”

In the past week, both Conservatives and Labour have released their election manifestos, the detailed packages of promises that form the centerpiece of their pitch to voters.

The Conservatives focused on reducing immigration and lowering taxes, pledging 17 billion pounds ($22 billion) in tax cuts by 2030, to be paid for largely by slashing welfare costs.

Labour promised to get the economy expanding after years of sluggish growth by establishing a new industrial policy, investing in infrastructure, cutting planning red tape and building 1.5 million new homes. It has promised not to increase personal taxes, but the Conservatives say the tax burden will rise under Labour.

Critics say neither party is being up front about the tax increases that would be needed to repair public services left threadbare after years of Conservative-led spending cuts, Brexit, a global pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis triggered by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

“The gaping hole in both parties’ manifestos is a reckoning with the scale and severity of the fiscal problems that will confront whoever wins the election,” said Hannah White, director of independent think tank the Institute for Government.

The Conservatives’ electoral prospects worsened when populist firebrand Nigel Farage entered the race at the helm of the right-wing party Reform U.K. Though it is unlikely to win many seats in Parliament, Reform’s vote share appears to be rising, largely at the expense of the Conservatives.

In recent days, the Conservative message has shifted from aiming at victory to warning that voting Reform could help Labour win a landslide.

“If you vote for anybody else other than a Conservative candidate, you’re going to get a Labour government with a large majority,” Transport Secretary Mark Harper told the BBC on Sunday.

Labour is concerned that its supporters will think the election is in the bag and stay home on polling day. Health spokesman Wes Streeting cautioned Sunday that there was “breathtaking complacency in the media” about the Labour Party’s poll lead.

Sunak, who has been in office for less than 20 months, insists that he's still fighting to win.

The United Kingdom's first Hindu prime minister told The Sunday Times that he was guided by the concept of dharma, which he said roughly translates as “doing your duty and not having a focus on the outcomes of it.”

“Work as hard as you can, do what you believe is right, and try, and what will be will be,” he said.


This story has been corrected to show that the transport secretary's last name is Harper, not Haper.