General election live: racism row shows failure of Farage leadership, says Starmer as he sympathises with Sunak

Keir Starmer said he shared Rishi Sunak’s disgust after a Reform UK campaigner used a racial slur to describe the prime minister.

The Labour leader accused Reform UK leader Nigel Farage of not doing enough after the incident, and added that it is the leader who sets the “tone, the culture and the standards” of a political party.

Speaking to reporters in the south-east of England, he said:

I don’t think [Nigel Farage] has shown the leadership he should’ve shown. There’s no good condemning remarks after the event.

If you lead a party you set the tone, and the culture, and the standards of your party, and I don’t think he’s done enough in terms of leadership.”

Asked if he sympathises with Sunak after the racial slur, Starmer said: “I do, and I thought what he said about his daughters in particular was very powerful. And I’m glad he said it and I share his disgust at the comments that were made.”

His mother still backs him, but do his constituents? The Observer headed to Somerset to find out.

There is little enthusiasm for Jacob Rees-Mogg among the crowd of parents gathering at the ­sun-dappled primary school close to his family’s 17th-century manor house in the rolling hills of north-east Somerset.

“We have learned the hard way that politicians who we feel are just a little bit of a joke can be dangerous,” says Nikki Joseph, 36, who is picking up her son. “I’m not voting for Jacob Rees-Mogg. I don’t know anyone who is voting for him … in my age group. It is either Lib Dem or Labour.”

A succession of polls, which match national polling data to local demographics, suggest the 14-year Rees-Mogg era may be nearing its end. They indicate the instantly recognisable but divisive Conservative MP – known for his flapping double-breasted suits and striped shirts – is currently likely to receive between 25% and 35% of the vote in the new North East Somerset and Hanham constituency, while his Labour challenger, Dan Norris, who is the West of England metro mayor, could get between 40% and 45%.

While some see Rees-Mogg as a harmless English eccentric, who is courteous to a fault and always takes the time to reply to his constituents’ messages, others in the tightly knit Mendip villages the Rees-Mogg family call home are disturbed by his rightwing views. Joseph singles out Rees-Mogg’s proud claim to have never changed a nappy and his suggestion in 2019 that the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire did not use their common sense and ignored the “stay put” advice issued by the fire service. He later apologised but Joseph thinks it reveals something about his character.

“Jacob Rees-Mogg has shown quite consistently that he doesn’t have a huge amount of respect for humanity,” explains Joseph, who works for the NHS. “He blamed the victims for dying … that it was their fault that they weren’t smart enough to get out of the building and I feel that sums up his attitude.”

Read on here:

If you’re just joining us, here is a round-up for the day’s main developments so far:

Keir Starmer said he shared Rishi Sunak’s disgust after a Reform UK campaigner used a racial slur to describe the prime minister. The Labour leader accused Reform UK leader Nigel Farage of not doing enough after the incident, and added that it is the leader who sets the “tone, the culture and the standards” of a political party.

A Conservative candidate has said that she was flashed while out canvassing with her seven-year-old son on Friday evening. Andrea Jenkyns, who is standing in Leeds South West and Morley, told the Telegraph that “a man dropped his trousers after she approached his home”. Jenkyns said she had reported the incident to police.

Keir Starmer has hit out at “desperate” and “ridiculous” Conservative attempts to portray Labour as a risk to national security. Speaking on a campaign visit in Hampshire he told reporters he had been granted access to sensitive intelligence by the government so it was wrong for ministers to now claim he would be a danger.

The Conservative party deputy chair Angela Richardson called the sewage crisis a “political football” and claimed opposition parties and activists had put Tory MPs in physical danger by campaigning on the issue.

Rishi Sunak abandoned his “legacy” policy to ban smoking for future generations amid a backlash from the tobacco industry in the form of legal threats, lobbying and a charm offensive aimed at Conservative MPs, an investigation reveals.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak told former soldiers of his plans for a veterans’ bill, if the Tories are re-elected, during a campaign visit in his North Yorkshire constituency.

The PA news agency reports that Sunak drank tea and ate cake at the Ellerton Lakeside cafe, near Northallerton, as he chatted with about a dozen veterans who had gathered for Armed Forces Day, joking that: “You need a lot of sugar to get through my day.”

Listening to the men, he said: “That’s why we now have, like they do in the US, we have a dedicated office for veteran’s affairs, a minister in the Cabinet, funding. So, we’re at the start of that journey.”

He said:

If we’re re-elected, we’re actually going to have a veteran’s bill, we’re going to pass our first ever veteran’s bill in parliament. That will bring together all the things that we need to do – put some things in law that will improve the service that we’ve providing.

That hasn’t happened before – a flagship veteran’s bill that [veterans’ minister] Johnny Mercer’s been working on which will just continue to improve the support.”

Sunak listened as he was told about initiatives to tackle veterans’ homelessness, mental health problems and issues facing service families at the nearby Catterick Garrison.

He said: “We want to make sure all of you get the support you are entitled to.”

According to the PA news agency, Sunak did not take questions from reporters during the 20 minute-long visit.

A Conservative candidate has said that she was flashed while out canvassing with her seven-year-old son on Friday evening.

Andrea Jenkyns, who is standing in Leeds South West and Morley, told the Telegraph that “a man dropped his trousers after she approached his home”. Jenkyns said she had reported the incident to police.

Jenkyns told the Telegraph that after her babysitter had cancelled, she took her son out leafleting. Of the man she said had flashed her, Jenkyns said: “He literally came to the window and pulled down his trousers, and I was really upset by this.”

The Tory candidate who was with party activists at the time of the incident, said her son turned away from the man and did not see his genitalia.

Jenkyns described going back to the house later that evening to confront the man, but a woman opened the door. Jenkyns told the Telegraph:

She was so apologetic. And then I saw him through the windows and I said, ‘Come on you coward, come to the door, this is disgusting doing this in front of a young child’.

And he said, ‘Fuck off, this is private property’. But he would not come. He was just mouthing off from the safety of his living room.”

Keir Starmer has been at a veterans’ coffee morning today in the south-east of England to mark Armed Forces Day.

The Labour leader and shadow defence secretary John Healey shook hands with the veterans who were adorned with war medals, before sitting down to chat over a cup of coffee, reports the PA news agency.

Speaking to veterans including 93-year-old Purna Bahadur Gurung, Starmer urged them to let him know what they want to see change locally and nationally. He added that he is committed to being a “government of service”.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, the Starmer refused to say whether David Lammy would be his foreign secretary under a Labour government.

He said he will “work hard until 10 o’clock on Thursday” to get votes, adding: “I’m not going to announce anybody who may be in a cabinet after Thursday if we win.”

Asked if he was concerned about the prospect of a supermajority, the Labour leader said that “the numbers are really tight, it’ll go down to a few hundred in many constituencies”.

He added: “We have to win every vote, earn the trust across the country.”

bAs we roll into the final weekend before polling day, here’s what the front pages of today’s newspapers look like:

The Guardian leads with “Biden’s shaky TV debate sparks calls to quit race”, but away from US politics there is also the Guardian’s view on the general election 2024. It reads: “Keir Starmer must win. Only his government can shape the future we want to see.”

Rishi Sunak’s “hurt and anger over his daughters having to hear Reform activist’s racist slur” is also mentioned, plus the paper’s complete guide to election night.

The Times focus is on the Conservative’s Kemi Badenoch’s condemnation of Nigel Farage over the Reform UK racism row: “Badenoch: Voters must see through Farage’s act.”

Joe Biden’s “disasterous debate performance against Donald Trump” has got the Democrats discussing whether to ditch the current US president, says the Times.

The Telegraph has also gone big on Biden and whether the US politician should step down. On UK politics, the Telegraph has an interview with David Dimbleby, in which he says “our politicians are not up to scratch”. The paper has also highlighted how “postal vote chaos may bring count challenges”.

The Daily Mail have gone with Boris Johnson claiming that “Britiain can still swerve Starmergeddon”. It even goes as far as to include an “eight-page tactical voting guide to avoid a Starmer supermajority”.

For the FT Weekend, the focus is firmly on Biden, who they say has defied “calls to bow out”. On the UK election, the FT has concentrated on an Edwardian toilet in Whitehall, and a history of British elections via it’s life and arts section. The toilet is an unexpected angle, I’ll admit.

The Independent says a “furious Rishi Sunak” has condmened the Reform UK canvasser caught on camera using a racial slur against him. It goes with the headline: “PM ‘hurt and angry’ at P-word race slur by Farage activist.”

The Express also leads with Sunak’s “hurt and anger at daughters hearing racist slur”.

The Mirror has focused on the missing teenager Jay Slater. It says Slater’s “best friend reveals he saw teenager leave road in video call from Tenerife”. It describes the friend’s comments on Slater “slipping on rocks” as a “new clue”. On the UK election, the Mirror sets its sights on Farage and describes the Reform UK racism row as a “new low” for the party leader.

Like many of the other papers, the Star has also gone with Biden v Trump, but in a more characteristic style for the tabloid: “Manbaby beats up doddery old bloke on live TV”. No mention of the UK general election on that front page as far as I can see.

For the iWeekend, it says the UK public are sending a “clear message to Labour and Tories” to “save Britian’s rivers”.

Keir Starmer said he shared Rishi Sunak’s disgust after a Reform UK campaigner used a racial slur to describe the prime minister.

The Labour leader accused Reform UK leader Nigel Farage of not doing enough after the incident, and added that it is the leader who sets the “tone, the culture and the standards” of a political party.

Speaking to reporters in the south-east of England, he said:

I don’t think [Nigel Farage] has shown the leadership he should’ve shown. There’s no good condemning remarks after the event.

If you lead a party you set the tone, and the culture, and the standards of your party, and I don’t think he’s done enough in terms of leadership.”

Asked if he sympathises with Sunak after the racial slur, Starmer said: “I do, and I thought what he said about his daughters in particular was very powerful. And I’m glad he said it and I share his disgust at the comments that were made.”

Keir Starmer has hit out at “desperate” and “ridiculous” Conservative attempts to portray Labour as a risk to national security, reports the PA news agency.

Speaking on a campaign visit in Hampshire he told reporters he had been granted access to sensitive intelligence by the government so it was wrong for ministers to now claim he would be a danger.

He said:

I think this is desperate stuff from the Tories. We are the party that were the founder member of Nato. If you go to Brussels and see the treaty there for Nato, it’s a Labour secretary of state that signed that and our support for Nato has been unshakeable since then.

On the nuclear deterrent, we’re clear about the triple lock that we’ve put in place, not only the current deterrent but the future upgrades of that deterrent and the jobs that go with it.

We have also – and this is why it is really desperate from the Tories – united with this Government, the Tory Government, on really important issues of national security. As a result of that, they have given me high-level sensitive briefings, so much do they trust us on national security. I’m very glad that they have and I do thank the defence secretary for facilitating that, particularly during Ukraine when they gave us very regular, very sensitive briefings.

To now turn around and make this ridiculous claim just shows how desperate they have become going into this election. It does them no good.”

Will rising debt cause Thames Water to sink under a Labour government? The Observer’s Alex Lawson has written this analysis piece to try and answer that question.

If Labour triumphs in this week’s election, as polls suggest, then top of the incoming business secretary Jonathan Reynolds’s in-tray will be the possible collapse of Thames Water. The Thames timebomb is ticking – and could explode before new MPs have even become fully acquainted with the corridors of Westminster.

To recap, Britain’s biggest water company has been labouring under an £18bn debt mountain and has become the chief target of mounting anger from the public and politicians towards the industry over sewage spills, executive pay and shareholder payouts.

In March, Thames investors refused to stump up a pledged £500m of emergency funding amid a standoff with the industry regulator, Ofwat. So acute are concerns that the government has tasked officials with making contingency plans for a temporary renationalisation, codenamed Project Timber.

Its finances were back in the spotlight this week, when the Guardian revealed that a £150m dividend paid out from the regulated company on 27 March – hours before investors pulled the plug – was being examined by Ofwat. An internal party dossier by Labour’s chief of staff, Sue Gray, seen by the Financial Times, put the company’s potential collapse high on the party’s “risk register” after taking power, alongside prison overcrowding, bankrupt councils and an NHS funding shortfall.

One of the first tests will be the postponed publication of Ofwat’s proposals for the water industry on 11 July. The regulator had been due to release its draft “price review 24” – the process by which it determines how much each company can charge customers over the following five years – on 12 June, but the pivotal moment was delayed by Rishi Sunak’s soggy early election announcement.

The Conservative party deputy chair Angela Richardson called the sewage crisis a “political football” and claimed opposition parties and activists had put Tory MPs in physical danger by campaigning on the issue.

Richardson, who is standing for re-election in Guildford, where the River Wey was recently found to have 10 times the safe limit of E coli, also suggested the only reason people were talking about the problem was “because the Conservatives let everyone know it was happening”.

Speaking at a hustings held last week by Zero Carbon Guildford, Richardson was asked about her party’s record on sewage spills. “The reason we’re all talking about this is because the Conservatives let everyone know it was happening,” she said. “If you go and have a look at the manifestos in 2019 you will not find anything about water quality. It is a very, very convenient hobby horse to jump on and attack Conservative MPs for voting against things that would not work.”

She added that activists putting up blue plaques around the town criticising her record on the issue in 2021 “resulted in a police helicopter above my house and police sniffer dogs through my house”.

“I was in danger because of the actions taken by political parties. It is no laughing matter,” she went on. “So my suggestion to everybody is to actually look at what we’re trying to do, working together and not turning this into a political football that’s actually dangerous.”

In March it was revealed that raw sewage was discharged into waterways for 3.6m hours in 2023 by England’s privatised water firms, more than double the figure in 2022.

The issue has become a theme of this election, as opposition parties take aim at ministers’ failure to get to grips with the crisis.

Research by the Rivers Trust found that sewage was spilled for 1,372 hours in the Guildford constituency last year, and recent water testing by local campaigners found E coli in the river last month at nearly 10 times the safe rate in government standards.

If you’re after something more lighthearted, then the Guardian’s weekend series, the Q&A, features Count Binface.

The comedian and candidate for Rishi Sunak’s Yorkshire seat talks about reintroducing Ceefax and beating the far right.

From potholes to HS2, transport gets voters going – but some solutions are unsayable, writes the Guardian’s transport correspondent, Gwyn Topham.

Topham writes:

Better railways, safer roads, cleaner fuels: in another decade, they would be the kind of transport issues commanding a pragmatic consensus in British politics.

But this election lands with transport wildly politicised, with clean air, speed limits and high-speed rail all dragged into the wider culture wars.

Meanwhile, transport has become emblematic of decline and the fraying public realm, from failing rail services to the potholes that pockmark Britain’s tarmac.

From the culture war battleground (drivers, Ulez and HS2) to the post-election action areas (rail reform and potholes) and off limits areas (road pricing and curbing flying), Topham runs you through what the election might resolve and the transport policies deemed too difficult to sell, here:

Who could replace Rishi Sunak as Tory leader if he loses the election? Well, if that question is on your mind, then luckily Peter Walker has you covered.

The Guardian’s senior political correspondent has run through the likely contenders for the Conservative party’s sixth leader in eight years. It could depend partly on who survives a big defeat, says Walker.

You can read his explainer piece here:

Labour must combine tackling the climate crisis with pursuing social justice, if elected, to show that achieving net zero will not be done “on the backs of the poor”, the UK’s outgoing Green party MP has warned.

Caroline Lucas, who has held the seat of Brighton Pavilion since 2010, said: “The biggest priority is to demonstrate that is not the case. We have to make sure that this is a strategy and a policy that is the opposite of being done on the backs of the poor.”

That should be achievable, she added, as social justice and shifting to a green economy go hand in hand. But if Labour takes power, as polls predict, the party must avoid mistakes that put costs on low-income families or that hurt people’s jobs, she said.

“The truth of it is that the policies that we need to get [greenhouse gas] emissions down are actually policies that will increase people’s wellbeing in any case,” she said. Home insulation was one example, where if a minimum energy efficiency standard were enforced on landlords then tenants would have warmer homes, less energy waste and lower emissions.

“Again and again there are concrete examples of where green policy is actually social justice policy, it’s one and the same thing. But that story doesn’t get told nearly strongly enough.”

Lucas looked beyond the current election to the next, five years away, to warn that a resurgent Conservative or Reform party right wing would be planning to “weaponise” the climate crisis, and would seize on any missteps by Labour on the issue.

“There’s a lot of hope riding on what a new Labour government could do after 14 years of Tory chaos, and if they aren’t seen to deliver something in that first term then I worry about what’s going to happen during those next four or five years is that [Nigel] Farage and [Kemi] Badenoch and whoever else within the Tory right are going to be reorganising and getting ready for a comeback. And surely one of the things they’re going to have on top of their list is going to be rolling back on net zero still further,” she told the Guardian.

You can read the full piece by Fiona Harvey and Damien Gayle here:

With it being Armed Forces Day and both Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer scheduled to make visits on the campaign trail marking it, today will feature them pushing the defence and armed forces pledges of their parties.

The prime minister was admonished for leaving the commemoration for the 80th anniversary of D-day early, and will be eager to push his party’s promises to servicemen and women on Armed Forces Day.

According to the PA news agency, Sunak will hail their “duty, dedication and selfless personal sacrifice” and claim the Conservatives are the only party promising to meet the Help for Heroes veterans’ pledge. As well as reiterating the Tories’ manifesto pledge to the armed forces including increasing defence spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2030, Sunak will also reassert his party’s commitment to the Northern Ireland legacy act, writes the news agency.

Meanwhile, Starmer and shadow defence secretary John Healey will mark Armed Forces Day by joining a veterans’ coffee morning in the south-east of England, where the pair will outline how the next Labour government aims to pay tribute through action.

They will announce new powers for Labour’s planned armed forces commissioner who will be able to investigate and report on issues which affect the lives of service personnel such as substandard housing, faulty kit and poor discharge support.

According to the PA news agency, Starmer will promise Labour will be a “government of service, for those who serve” and that they will “always ensure that those who defend our country have their voices heard at the highest level”.

Elsewhere, Ed Davey will embark on an epic 1,343-mile tour of seats from John o’Groats in northern Scotland to Land’s End in Cornwall in the final days of the campaign. The journey will take in seats that the Liberal Democrats are hoping to take from the Tories and the SNP.

Talking of the SNP, leader John Swinney will be campaigning in the seats of Falkirk, Alloa and Grangemouth and Bathgate and Linlithgow on Saturday, as he claims only SNP MPs will hold the next government to account on austerity cuts.

With less than a week until polls open and predictions of SNP losses to Labour, Swinney will say that Scotland is the only place where the electoral outcome remains on a knife-edge.

Rishi Sunak abandoned his “legacy” policy to ban smoking for future generations amid a backlash from the tobacco industry in the form of legal threats, lobbying and a charm offensive aimed at Conservative MPs, an investigation reveals.

The UK had been on course to become the first country to ban smoking for future generations, via the tobacco and vaping bill, which Downing Street hoped would help define Sunak’s place in British political history.

An investigation by the Guardian and the Examination, a non-profit newsroom that investigates global health threats, has uncovered how the UK’s largest cigarette companies fought against the policy, which would have raised the smoking age by one year every year.

After months of fierce opposition from the industry – and intervention from MPs and thinktanks with ties to tobacco firms – the proposal was excluded from the “wash-up” process, when outgoing governments choose which policies to fast-track and which to drop.

The policy, which in effect banned smoking for anyone born after 2009, was left out despite MPs having voted in favour of it.

Documents and freedom of information requests reveal how four of the world’s largest tobacco firms – the UK’s Imperial Brands and British American Tobacco (BAT), Japan Tobacco International (JTI) and US-headquartered Philip Morris International (PMI) – put ministers on notice of a legal backlash.

Imperial and BAT wrote to the health secretary, Victoria Atkins, in February, to claim the consultation process preceding legislation was “unlawful” because industry views had not been considered.

The Department of Health and Social Care has said it did not need to consider industry views, pointing to guidance included in a World Health Organization global treaty, signed by the UK, that says governments should form smoking policy without influence from cigarette companies.

You can read all about the investigation by Rob Davies and Matthew Chapman here:

Shadow defence secretary John Healey is also on the broadcast round this morning. In an interview with Sky News, Healey said Nigel Farage needed to “get a grip of his own party” and tackle racist and homophobic activists within Reform UK.

He told Sky News:

To some extent, I see him fuelling a row over this Channel 4 film to distract, really, from the fact that there are officials and there are candidates right at the heart of the Reform party, that have been responsible for racist, anti-gay, and other deeply offensive statements.

And it’s for Farage to take action on them. And in the end, the culture and the standards of any political party are set by the leader and Nigel Farage wants to be seen as a leader.

He needs to get a grip of his own party and he’s failing to do that at the moment.”

He compared the situation to the “very similar challenge” faced by Keir Starmer in tackling the “antisemitism that had been allowed to fester in parts of the Labour party”.

“He did that and that’s the responsibility of any leader of any political party,” said Healey.

Security minister Tom Tugendhat has been on the morning broadcast round this Saturday. In an interview with Times Radio, Tugendhat did not rule out a run at the Tory leadership if Rishi Sunak quits following the general election.

Asked if he wanted to be leader, he told Times Radio:

What I want to do is to make sure we’ve got a Conservative leader in this country and that’s why I’m supporting Rishi Sunak. Because the alternative with Keir Starmer, I’m afraid, is higher taxes, more regulation, worse growth and more unemployment.

What we need to do is to make sure that Conservatives across this country win their seats and that’s exactly what I’ve been focused on.”

Pressed again on the issue of what happens after the election, he said:

Well, we’ll deal with hypotheticals in a different way. I mean, the reality is Rishi Sunak is the candidate, there’s only two candidates for prime minister, there’s Rishi Sunak and there’s Sir Keir Starmer.

One of them is committed to lowering your taxes, protecting your borders and making a difference in everybody’s lives. The other, I’m afraid, is Sir Keir Starmer who is committed to raising your taxes, to making life a little bit harder for everybody and to lecturing you on how to live your life.”

During the same interview, Tugendhat said there was a “pattern of racist and misogynistic views” within Reform UK.

He told Times Radio:

There’s many decent people vote for every political party and there’s many decent people who will vote for Reform. But what we’re trying to do is to remind people, to try to make clear to people, what it is that Reform really is.

He said Nigel Farage has “clearly done almost no due diligence on who he’s asking to carry his message”.

“There is a real pattern of racist and misogynistic views in the party. I think it’s absolutely right to call it out,” he added.

Good morning, and welcome to our continued coverage of the 2024 general election campaign. It is the final weekend before voters go to the polls on Thursday 4 July.

Security minister Tom Tugendhat has said there is a “pattern of racist and misogynistic views” within Reform UK.

He told Times Radio:

There’s many decent people vote for every political party and there’s many decent people who will vote for Reform.

But what we’re trying to do is to remind people, to try to make clear to people, what it is that Reform really is.”

He said Nigel Farage has “clearly done almost no due diligence on who he’s asking to carry his message”.

“There is a real pattern of racist and misogynistic views in the party. I think it’s absolutely right to call it out,” he added.

Farage, meanwhile, has claimed that an activist in question, Andrew Parker, is an actor and that the clip was a fabrication. The Reform UK leader repeated his assertion that Channel 4’s footage was a “set up” during last night’s BBC Question Time. Earlier on Friday, he’d appeared on ITV’s Loose Women and said that the Parker incident was orchestrated to discredit his party.

In other news, here are some of the events we can expect politicians to be attending today, according to the PA news agency:

Rishi Sunak will be campaigning with an Armed Forces Day visit near Catterick in his Richmond and Northallerton constituency at 11am. This evening he’ll be at a community visit in Neasden, north west London.

Labour leader Keir Starmer and shadow defence secretary John Healey will join veterans in the Aldershot, Hampshire, at a coffee morning to mark Armed Forces Day at 9am. In the evening, Starmer will speak at a major event in London after speeches from deputy leader Angela Rayner.

Liberal Democrats leader Ed Davey will be out campaigning in Scotland, with a tour that’ll take in Fife, Edinburgh and East Dunbartonshire.

Northern Ireland secretary of state Chris Heaton-Harris will address the Tory manifesto launch event in Belfast.

It is Amy Sedghi here today. If you want to get my attention then please do email me on [email protected]. I will take a look at comments below the line (BTL) but won’t be able to read them all, so the quickest way to point out any error or omissions is to email me.

Also, please note that comments will not be open on the blog until 10am.

 

Updated: Juni 29, 2024 — 11:47 am

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