Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer trade blows on leadership and tax as election battles hot up in London

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Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer traded blows over their leadership and tax as campaigning in key battleground seats in London and across Britain were being ramped up.

The Tories unleashed an all-out tax war on Labour with less than three weeks to go before the July 4 polling day.

The Prime Minister, who is being urged by some senior Tories to change tactics and fire off increasingly personal attacks on the Labour leader,  accused him of not having the “courage of his convictions”.

But Sir Keir hit back, slamming Mr Sunak’s Tories for resorting to “desperate” measures as polls pointed to them getting an election hammering after 14 years in office.

As the two main parties slugged it out, Nigel Farage published Reform UK’s General Election manifesto proposals - and also claimed that it was a “matter of opinion” whether Donald Trump had tried to overturn the US 2020 presidential election.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey tore into the Tories for leaving “the country in a terrible mess,” and in his latest election stunt took part in wheelbarrow races at Yeovil Town FC’s stadium in Somerset.

In London, the Conservatives are on the back foot as they fight to hold onto more than a dozen seats which polls say they could lose to Labour, and three more constituencies in the capital where they could be beaten by the Lib-Dems.

The day had started with Defence Secretary Grant Shapps stepping up the Tories’ onslaught against Labour on tax, despite their claims being undermined by The Treasury, independent fact checkers and the UK’s statistics watchdog.

But Mr Shapps instead doubled down on the tax onslaught, even though the Tory claims have been undermined by the Treasury, independent fact checkers and the UK’s statistics watchdog, and have so far failed to improve the party’s dismal polling some 20 points behind Labour.

Polls suggest the Tories will haemorrhage seats with Nigel Farage’s Reform UK taking chunks out of the their vote, with some surveys suggesting they could even end up with less than 100 MPs.

With less than three weeks to polling day, Mr Shapps told Sky News: “We can’t risk having a Labour government, or a very large Labour majority, a so-called super-majority would be very bad news, higher taxes for everybody — on your home, on your car, on your job, on your pensions.”

Earlier he told GB News: “If you believe Labour are going to win, you need to start saving now.”

Shadow paymaster general Jonathan Ashworth dismissed the latest Tory claim that Labour would hike council tax through the re-banding of properties. He told Sky News: “No increase in income tax, no increase in national insurance, no increase in VAT or corporation tax. We’re not doing council tax re-banding. All our policies are fully-funded, they do not require additional tax increases.”

But Labour’s plans for better public services are based on getting healthy economic growth for Britain, which it has not had for years. It has refused to say whether it would increase other taxes including capital gains tax, fuel duty or stamp duty.

The Tories have pledged to cut a further 2p off national insurance and abolish the main rate for the self-employed. But the Institute for Fiscal Studies has pointed out that their plans are based on making £12 billion of welfare savings and £5 billion from clamping down on tax avoidance, money that they are not guaranteed to get.

The respected economists have accused both main parties of not being honest about the tough public spending cuts, or tax rises, facing the country after July 4.

The UK Statistics Authority has also rapped the Conservatives for claiming that households would be hit with a £2,000 tax hike under a Labour government, stressing that this was a figure over four years, which ministers have failed to make clear.

Monday’s Standard front page (Christian Adams/Evening Standard)
Monday’s Standard front page (Christian Adams/Evening Standard)

A Labour spokeswoman claimed: “The Tories are making ever more desperate claims because their record lies in tatters.”

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves told business leaders in London that holding a global investment summit in the first 100 days of entering government would show Labour is “pro-business” and would “crack on to unlock investment”.

She also signalled Labour would seek closer trade ties with the EU, including a better deal for financial services workers.

Mr Shapps, seeking re-election in Welwyn Hatfield, became the second Cabinet minister, after Chancellor Jeremy Hunt contesting Godalming and Ash, to admit that their seats are on “a knife edge”.