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UK PM woos voters with tax cuts and home ownership

Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer is tipped to become the country's next prime minister (Leon Neal)
Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer is tipped to become the country's next prime minister (Leon Neal)

UK leader Rishi Sunak on Tuesday sought to get his lacklustre general election campaign back on track by promising voters tax cuts and lower immigration as he launched his Conservative party's manifesto.

The prime minister channelled Tory heroine Margaret Thatcher by pledges of greater home ownership to woo a largely disaffected electorate away from poll front-runners Labour before the vote on July 4.

"We Conservatives have a plan to give you financial security," said Sunak while presenting his party's blueprint for a fifth consecutive term in office at Silverstone, home of the British Formula 1 Grand Prix.

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Centre-left Labour are in pole position, however, and Tuesday's launch marked one of Sunak's last chances to close the gap in his bid to overtake the main opposition.

Sunak, appointed party leader by fellow Tories in October 2022 after Liz Truss's disastrous tenure, has endured a nightmare election campaign in which he was even forced to deny rumours that he might quit.

Polls have predicted for many months that Labour, led by former human rights lawyer Keir Starmer, will win a solid majority and return to power after almost a decade and a half in opposition.

Sunak's uphill battle was made even harder last week after right-wing firebrand Nigel Farage announced he was running to become an MP, and the prime minister drew near-universal criticism for leaving D-Day commemoration events in France early.

The Tories pledged to cut national insurance paid by employees and employers for state health, unemployment and pensions for a third time this year if re-elected, and scrap it for the self-employed.

The party also promised to abolish stamp duty up to the value of £425,000 ($540,000) for first-time home buyers and end capital gains tax for landlords who sell properties to their tenants.

Sunak, 44, said his government would pay for lower taxes by cracking down on welfare payments to working-age recipients.

"We are the party of Margaret Thatcher and Nigel Lawson -- the party that believes in sound money," Sunak said, referring to the former Tory prime minister and her finance minister.

But Paul Johnson, of the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies, said he had a "degree of scepticism" about the Conservative manifesto's costs.

Sunak said the Tories were "the party of the property-owning democracy", despite admitting in a television interview Monday night that owning a home had got harder under the Conservatives in the last 14 years.

Critics also point to record-low levels of house building and high mortgage rates under the party, blamed on the plan of unfunded tax cuts by Truss, Sunak's short-lived predecessor.

- 'Chaos' -

A shortage in supply has increased housing prices, including for renters already hit by cost-of-living pressures.

Sunak elsewhere promised that his government would halve record levels of immigration, including with a "regular rhythm" of flights carrying rejected asylum seekers to Rwanda.

He accused Labour of wanting to increase the tax burden on households, though the figures are in dispute.

Starmer said the money was not there to pay for Sunak's pledges and warned the manifesto was a "recipe for five more years of chaos".

With just over three weeks to go before the election, opinion polls give Labour a lead of around 20 points over the Conservatives, with the anti-immigration Reform UK party, led by Brexit figurehead Farage, in third place.

While campaigning Tuesday, Farage was pelted with projectiles, just days after a 25-year-old woman was charged after dousing him in milkshake.

The Conservatives are facing the fallout from the Brexit they advocated, the self-inflicted scandals of former prime minister Boris Johnson's government, and a cost-of-living crisis that has forced Britons to tighten their belts since 2022.

Sunak called the election during a rain-drenched speech in late May, six months earlier than he had to, prompting questions about his political judgement.

More recently, he has repeatedly apologised for not joining other world leaders at an event in northern France last week to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day, sparking widespread uproar.

When asked by journalists if rumours he would resign were true, Sunak told broadcasters Monday: "No, of course not. I'm energised about the vision that we're putting forward for the country."

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