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HomeWorld HeadlinesWhat happened this week in the UK election campaign, from manifesto launches...

What happened this week in the UK election campaign, from manifesto launches to robots and Haribos

LONDON — The U.K.’s general election campaign has now passed the halfway mark, and finally the main political parties have published their plans for government should they win on July 4.

Beyond the carefully choreographed set piece events, there’s always a potential banana skin around the corner. Just ask Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who had to apologize — repeatedly — for leaving the 80th D-Day commemorations in northern France on June 6 before the main international event.

“Events dear boy, events,” Sunak’s predecessor in the early 1960s, Harold Macmillan said when asked what the greatest challenge was for politicians.

With less than three weeks to go, all those contesting the election will have to be mindful of any unexpected “events” that can derail a campaign plan for days.

Here are some things we’ve learned in the past week:

Most of the major political parties published their manifestos before the election over the past week.

Few voters will ever read the documents, but the messaging from the two big parties is already clear.

Sunak’s Conservatives are putting tax front-and-center of their election campaign, arguing that an incoming Labour government would cost households more than 2,000 pounds ($2,500).

Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, refutes that charge — in fact he’s called it a lie — and says his government will restore stability after years of economic and political turmoil.

On questions of tax and spend, the verdict of the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank is often sought. Its conclusion is that both main parties are joined in a “conspiracy of silence” over the difficulties they would face after the election given the parlous state of the public finances.

This particular war of words will no doubt continue right up to polling day. In the battle of the pictures, the two parties took a different approach in their manifestos.

While the Conservative Party’s document had no picture of Sunak, Labour’s manifesto featured Starmer on 33 occasions, including one with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the international D-Day event — yes, the one that Sunak left early.

U.K. election campaigns are gruelling for the leaders. Here, there and seemingly, everywhere. And all at once.

The two main contenders to be prime minister after the election faced off — indirectly — in their second campaign event on Wednesday in Grimsby, a fishing town in eastern England, which historically voted Labour until 2019, when the Conservatives, under the then leadership of Boris Johnson, won a big majority.

Quizzed individually by Sky News’ political editor Beth Rigby, Sunak and Starmer then had to contend with the questions from an audience of straight-talking locals.

The two emerged unscathed, sort of.

Starmer drew laughter after he was left briefly speechless when an audience member accused him of being a “political robot,” while Sunak revealed details of his “appalling” high-sugar diet on the campaign trail. “Enormous” amounts of the chocolate bar Twix and Haribo sweets, apparently.

Hopefully he packed some for the summit of the Group of Seven leaders in a luxury resort in Italy’s southern Puglia region, where he ended the week and where he no doubt got some respite from the intensity of the campaign.

There’s one man in this election campaign that has made a mark in a very different way. That’s Ed Davey, the leader of the centrist Liberal Democrats, who have traditionally been the third party in U.K. politics. However, after joining in a coalition government with the Conservatives from 2010 and 2015, their fortunes sunk and the party fell back into fourth.

Davey is clearly targeting many constituencies the Conservatives hold in many parts of the country, such as the southwest of England and rural communities around London. He is hoping to get Labour votes in those seats to oust the Conservative candidate.

But because the two main parties have so much airtime on television, Davey has decided to take a different tack to make his political points.

Often in a wetsuit.

One day, he’s falling into the water to highlight the “sewage scandal” that’s afflicting Britain’s rivers and coastline, the next he’s scrambling around an assault course to promote the value of open spaces and exercise.

Oh, and after he launched the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto on Monday, he went for a rollercoaster ride. Campaigning is like a rollercoaster, he said.

Whether his antics help his party’s cause, only time will tell.

But he’s certainly making a splash.

In three weeks time, the results will be in. The left-of-center Labour Party remains favorite to win the most seats in the 650-seat House of Commons. While major pollsters give varying figures, all show a double-digit Labour lead, with relatively little change since Sunak called the election on May 22.

“The current stable picture suits Labour just fine,” said Rob Ford, professor of political science at the University of Manchester. “But a stable campaign piles further pressure on Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives who are now staring down the barrel of a historic defeat.”

There are signs from some leading Conservative figures that they think that’s the most likely outcome. Grant Shapps, the defense secretary, even warned against a Labour supermajority in Parliament.

As the week wore on, more and more Conservatives were becoming increasingly vocal in their opposition to Reform U.K, the successor to the Brexit Party and which is now fronted by Nigel Farage, one of the main protagonists in the country’s vote to leave the European Union in 2016. Farage is seeking to woo Conservative voters with his anti-immigration and low-tax rhetoric. Conservative candidates are pushing back and saying a vote for Reform will only bolster Labour.

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