Starmer vows to ‘fight fire with fire’ in general election against Conservatives after Sunak quelled talk of May poll

5 January 2024, 01:21 | Updated: 15 January 2024, 09:00

Sir Keir Starmer has said the Labour party will 'fight fire with fire'.
Sir Keir Starmer has said the Labour party will 'fight fire with fire'. Picture: Alamy

By Jenny Medlicott

The Labour party will ‘fight fire with fire’ when up against the Conservatives in the next year, Sir Keir Starmer has said.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

He said if the government wants to “put fire into their attacks” in the run-up to the next general election, the Labour party will hit back with "fire".

The Labour leader said on Thursday: “They will go low. What I’m saying is if they want to go with fire into this election, we will meet their fire with fire.”

It comes after Rishi Sunak said he expects to call a general election in the "second half of this year”, appearing to effectively rule out a spring election.

Sir Keir will take your calls on LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast on Friday and you can listen live from 9am on Global Player the official LBC app

He told reporters during a visit to the East Midlands that his "working assumption" is that it will be in the second half of 2024 - as speculation mounted over when it would be held. The latest it can be held in January 2025.

Mr Sunak said: "My working assumption is we'll have a general election in the second half of this year and in the meantime I've got lots that I want to get on with.

"I want to keep going, managing the economy well and cutting people's taxes. But I also want to keep tackling illegal migration," he said.

"So, I've got lots to get on with and I'm determined to keep delivering for the British people."

Rishi Sunak has said he aims to call an election in the latter half of the year
Rishi Sunak has said he aims to call an election in the latter half of the year. Picture: Alamy

He attacked Labour's plans to borrow £28bn to fund green initiatives as "not credible" and claimed the opposition party could not be trusted with the country's money.

Sir Keir Starmer's party hovers about 18 points ahead of the Tories in opinion polls and several projections show the party securing a big majority in the Commons.

Speaking after Mr Sunak's speech, Sir Keir accused the prime minister of "delaying" the inevitable.

He said: "People are crying out for change. And I say to the prime minister, what's he hiding? If he's not going to set a date, what's he hiding from the public?

"This has serious implications for the country because he's basically saying he's going to be squatting for months and months in Downing Street, dithering and delaying."So if he's not being clear, and I don't think he's setting a date, what's he hiding?"

Speaking in Bristol on Thursday, the Labour leader urged voters to 'hold on to hope' that things can be better.

He said: "This year at the general election, against the tide of cynicism in Westminster, the gauntlet of fear the Tories will unleash, and most of all the understandable despair of a downtrodden country, I will ask the British people to believe in it again. 

"I will say you’re right to be anti-Westminster and angry about what politics has become. But hold on to the flickering hope in your heart that things can be better, because they can, and you can choose it."

Sir Keir Starmer's party leads the Tories by double digits in opinion polls
Sir Keir Starmer's party leads the Tories by double digits in opinion polls. Picture: Alamy

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey accused Mr Sunak of "running scared" of a May election.

He said: "Squatter Sunak is holed up in Downing Street, desperately clinging on to power rather than facing the verdict of the British people."We need an election in spring, so that voters can finally get rid of this appalling and out-of-touch Conservative government."

There have been questions over whether Mr Sunak would hold out for the rest of the year in the hope that inflation will continue to fall and the effects of his National Insurance tax cut - and potential further giveaways in the spring budget - will allow him to close the gap on Labour.

Read more: Dominic Cummings was not offered a job in secret meeting with Rishi Sunak, says No10

Mr Sunak admitted 2023 "wasn't the easiest of years" but said: "I know that 2024 is going to be a better year, I want to make sure that all you believe 2024 is going to be a better year too."

A number of his backbenchers, especially those calling for tougher action on immigration, fear the threat of Reform UK squeezing them on the right wing.

That threat could only grow if Nigel Farage fully commits to the party ahead of the next election.

"A vote for anyone who is not a Conservative is a vote for Keir Starmer in power," Mr Sunak said in a direct address to that spectre.

"We're going to pass our Rwanda Bill through Parliament, get that scheme up and running, and that will provide the further deterrent we need to grip this once and for all."

The delayed election makes the Tories risk becoming a mirror image to Gordon Brown throughout his tenure, when he refused to call an early election then lost the 2010 vote amid accusations he had "bottled" a contest.

Earlier, Sir Keir Starmer said the Conservatives would "unleash a gauntlet of fear" at the next general election, which will almost certainly take place this year.

But he declined to offer many specifics on what Labour would do in power, telling reporters simply that he wanted to "target growth".

He said any tax cuts would "have to be fair and affordable" and was "fundamentally opposed" to inheritance tax breaks.