Your morning news briefing, Thursday May 23, 2024: General election called, migration numbers and Paula Vennells returns

23 May 2024, 08:20

Sunak and Starmer are set to battle for Number 10
Sunak and Starmer are set to battle for Number 10. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Good morning, here's all the UK and world news you're waking up to today on Thursday, March 23, 2024.

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Morning, Kit here - the biggest news of the day is that Rishi Sunak called a general election yesterday for July 4.

Election

In line with his unfortunate surroundings - he was standing in Downing Street in the rain, while a prankster played 'Things Can Only Get Better' - Mr Sunak warned of a gloomy future if the public choose Labour at the election.

He vowed he would "never leave the people of this country to face the darkest of days alone", and said the election would take place at a time "when the world is more dangerous than it has been since the end of the Cold War".

In contrast, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he wanted to "reset" the country's politics.

Read the latest from LBC here

Speaking after Mr Sunak's announcement, Sir Keir said: "Over the past 14 years - through all the crises we have had to face - sticking with that idea has left our country exposed, insecure and unable to unlock the potential of every community.

Sir Keir, strong favourite to replace Mr Sunak as Prime Minister, said: "But a vote for Labour is a vote to turn the page on all that. A vote for change."

Both parties begin their six-week election campaigns in earnest on Thursday, with Rishi Sunak on LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast and Labour putting up national campaign coordinator Pat McFadden.

Here are some of the key issues at play over the next six weeks:

For the interview with Mr Sunak, the latest on the election and the key issues at play, listen to Nick Ferrari at Breakfast on Global Player, the official LBC app.

Why has Rishi Sunak called an election for July and not the Autumn?

Key issues at stake

The economy

Following the shock of the Covid-19 pandemic and a cost-of-living crisis so deep and prolonged that relatively well-off households found themselves in financial insecurity, the traditional dominance of economic concerns during general election campaigns will be reinforced this time round.

Both the Tories and Labour have touted themselves as the party of economic stability and prosperity - which has one of the most significant influences on how voters cast their ballot.

Previous elections show that voters, depending on whether they feel better off or not, will either reward or punish the incumbent government accordingly.

Mr Sunak is likely to point towards Wednesday’s fall in inflation to 2.3%, as it nears the Bank of England’s 2% target, as a sign the economy is on the right track under his government.

However, as Labour is keen to point out, the long period of unusually high inflation has long-term consequences, with lower rates simply adding less to high household costs.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer. Picture: Alamy

NHS

The NHS consistently ranks as the second most important issue for voters.

Historically high waiting lists for treatment, ageing infrastructure across the NHS estate and workforce challenges combine to paint a picture of the much-loved health service on its knees.

Cutting NHS waiting times is one of the pillars of Labour’s manifesto, as Sir Keir has promised to cut these waits by hiring more staff and enabling more operations to take place, which he would fund by getting rid of the non-dom tax status.

The government has made progress in reducing waiting times, but the scale of the problem means the figures remain at a level many voters will be disturbed by.

Immigration

Immigration consistently comes in third place in recent polling on voter priorities and is set to be a key battleground in the election campaign.

The Rwanda Bill has become a flagship feature of Mr Sunak’s government. This policy and talk of limits on legal migration show the Government is committed to taking a hard line on the issue

Meanwhile Labour has said it is also looking to reduce the reliance on overseas workers and backs a points-based immigration system which it says "would work for workers and businesses".

Sir Keir has been treading carefully on the issue of small boats, saying crossings needed to be reduced "materially" without setting a target.

He said a Labour government would expand counter-terror powers to cover people-smuggling gangs and create a new Border Security Command to co-ordinate efforts to halt the crossings.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Picture: Alamy

Legal migration

One of the reasons Sunak is said to have called a surprise election for July 4 is that illegal migrant crossings over the Channel are likely to increase again over the summer - possibly jeopardising his promise of 'stopping the boats'.

But there is likely to be better news on Thursday, when net legal migration data is published.

The ONS will put out an estimate of net migration to the UK in the year to December 2023, and the Home Office will release figures for UK asylum, visa and resettlement for the year ending March 2024.

Figures may come down, but still may be higher than the government would like, given that reducing migration is set to be a key election battleground.

Migrants brought on shore by the border force at Dover
Migrants brought on shore by the border force at Dover. Picture: Alamy

Paula Vennells returns to the Post Office inquiry

Disgraced former Post Office boss is set to return for her second day of giving evidence at the Horizon inquiry.

Ms Vennells, who ran the Post Office between 2012 and 2019, broke down several times on her first day at the inquiry on Wednesday, as she was questioned about the fate of hundreds of sub-postmasters who were wrongly prosecuted because of an IT glitch.

She will continue to answer questions about whether or not she played down how much she knew about the accounting software, and whether she misled MPs on purpose.

Paula Vennells
Paula Vennells. Picture: Alamy

Full-scale Israel attack on Rafah appears imminent

Israeli forces continue to battle in the southern Gaza city of Rafah and in Jabalia in the north, as the army battles Hamas and seeks to free the remaining hostages.

Rafah, where much of the Gaza population has taken shelter since the start of the war, endured one of its heaviest nights of bombardment on Wednesday.

Israel says it has no choice but to wage war in Rafah but to root out Hamas, and says it is minimising the risk to civilians.

Mexico stage collapse kills nine and injures dozens more

The collapse of a stage during an election campaign rally in northern Mexico has killed at least nine people, including a child, and injured 63.

The stage was sent flying by a strong gust of wind during an event in the city of San Pedro Garza Garcia in Neuvo Leon on Wednesday night attended by presidential candidate Jorge Alvarez Maynez.

Events are being held across the county in anticipation of the June 2 presidential, state and municipal elections.

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