Analysis

Labour pitch on business and Sunak's Tory offer on pensions shows swing vote versus core vote strategies

Labour and the Tories are taking different approaches to the campaign.

It is early in the election campaign, but what we have seen so far from the two main parties shows a clear difference in strategy, and therefore in confidence.

Delivering a speech on Tuesday, Rachel Reeves stressed the importance of economic credibility, and was flanked by a host of names from business who had signed a letter expressing their support. This is an appeal to Tory voters, swing voters and those who have not supported Labour previously.

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Compare this to the most recent announcements from the Prime Minister. First Rishi Sunak pledged to bring back National Service and has now promised to introduce a “triple lock plus” for pensioners, essentially a tax cut. These are policies to hold core support, not take voters from Labour.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak plays a game of bowls during a visit to Market Bosworth Bowling Club, where he is seeking to woo pensioners.Prime Minister Rishi Sunak plays a game of bowls during a visit to Market Bosworth Bowling Club, where he is seeking to woo pensioners.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak plays a game of bowls during a visit to Market Bosworth Bowling Club, where he is seeking to woo pensioners.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the language of Ms Reeves, the shadow chancellor – an increasingly influential member of Sir Keir Starmer’s cabinet, and one who has pushed for tougher language around the economy. The Labour leader has even joked about this, saying “try getting money out of Rachel, in a hurry, and you’ll just see how – because Rachel understands that taxpayers’ money is taxpayers’ money”.

Ms Reeves on Tuesday distanced herself from comments made by the Labour leader declaring himself a socialist, instead arguing she was a “social democrat”.

This came amidst a speech making clear overtures to business, where Ms Reeves explained she was “not one of those politicians that thinks that the private sector is a dirty word, or a necessary evil”.

She said: “I want to lead the most pro-growth, the most pro-business Treasury that our country has ever seen, with a laser focus on delivering for working people.

“Today, more than 120 senior business leaders have signed a letter expressing their support for a Labour government. Across the world of business Labour is being recognised as the natural partner of business, the party of growth, and the party of enterprise.

“To bring investment back to Britain, to bring growth back to Britain, to bring hope back to Britain. Because by bringing business back to Britain, we can deliver a better future for working people. Whatever ideologues on the left or the right say, it’s not either or.”

The last line highlights the change in stance, and suggests the Labour party is no longer simply stressing typical Labour values. With the polls where they are, Sir Keir’s party has its tanks very much on the Tory lawn.

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It represents a huge turn-around from where things were under Sir Keir’s predecessor Jeremy Corbyn. Warnings over the risk of Mr Corbyn to business came from Pimlico Plumbers, British Land, the chief financial officer at roadside rescue company AA, the British Chambers of Commerce and the CBI. Now companies are lining up to endorse the party.

Ms Reeves also promised every line in the Labour manifesto would be fully costed and fully funded, with greater emphasis on how the party’s policies are funded than what will actually be in the manifesto. It is this appeal to the right that has seen Sir Keir consistently writing in papers usually considered hostile to Labour, even taking out full page adverts in them promising to back pensioners.

The strategy so far seems to be working for Labour, which in the first Survation poll since the general election was announced, hold a 23-point lead. Sir Keir’s party is on 47 per cent, the Tories 24, then the Lib Dems on 11 and the SNP 3 per cent.

If Labour is focusing on gains, the Conservative strategy is far more about holding on to what they have.

Mr Sunak unveiled a £2.4 billion tax break on Tuesday to help secure the support of pensioners, promising to increase the income tax personal allowance for them, creating a tax cut worth around £95 in 2025/26, rising to £275 in 2029/30.

Speaking during a visit to a bowling green in Leicestershire, he said: “What I believe is if you work hard all your life, you should have dignity in retirement. Today, it’s clear that there’s only one party in this election who’s on the side of pensioners and it’s us. There’s only one party offering a tax cut for pensioners – that’s us.

“Pensioners can remember what [former prime minister] Gordon Brown did and they’ve heard today from Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves, that they will be taxed under a future Labour government.”

He said the “triple lock-plus” would deliver “a tax cut worth around £100 to millions of pensioners, demonstrating our commitment to them”. This pitch to pensioners follows the national service announcement – a policy with little support when compulsory, except among the over 66.

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It highlights a concern in the Conservative party, and one shown by the leaked internal polling suggesting the party could lose more than 100 seats solely due to the rise of Reform.

Documents seen by Bloomberg show senior aides fear huge losses caused by Reform splitting the Tory vote, so party chiefs are now targeting the core vote, winning back older people, 2019 Con voters and people considering Reform.

This shows a party focusing not on winning, but managing the scale of a defeat. Nigel Farage knows this and called for Mr Sunak to debate him as he set out Reform UK’s campaign agenda at an event in Dover on Tuesday.

Mr Farage, who has declined to stand as an MP, launched Reform’s campaign at a yacht club on the Kent seafront.

He said: “This is now a six-year plan. This is our first big election. It’s the place to try to spearhead into Parliament. We’re building a campaign for the 2029 general election.”

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