Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks during his visit...

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks during his visit to the Backstage Centre for the launch of Labour's doorstep offer to voters ahead of the general election, in Purfleet, Essex, England, Thursday May 16, 2024. Credit: AP/Victoria Jones

LONDON — Britain's still-undeclared election campaign stepped up a gear on Thursday when opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starme r announced the key pledges that he hopes will make him the U.K.’s next prime minister later this year.

The center-left party is focusing on economic stability, security, health and education as it tries to win over disillusioned voters and regain power after 14 years in opposition.

Among Starmer’s six promises are restoring economic stability after years of soaring inflation and high mortgage rates, establishing a publicly owned green-energy company and toughening border controls.

Labour also says it will cut waiting times for treatment in the state-funded National Health Service, recruit more police officers to curb low-level crime that blights neighborhoods and hire thousands of new teachers.

Money for the pledges will come from modest revenue-raising measures including a windfall tax on oil and gas companies and an end to tax breaks for private schools.

At a launch event in Essex, an electoral bellwether county east of London, Starmer said the promises were “our down-payment on change” that would take a decade to implement.

Starmer, 61, has dragged Labour toward the political center ground since taking over in 2020 from veteran socialist Jeremy Corbyn, who led Labour to election defeats in 2017 and 2019. He has dropped Corbyn’s opposition to Britain’s nuclear weapons, backed military aid to Ukraine, apologized for antisemitism within the party under Corbyn and stressed the party’s commitment to balancing the books.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks during his visit...

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks during his visit to the Backstage Centre for the launch of Labour's doorstep offer to voters ahead of the general election, in Purfleet, Essex, England, Thursday May 16, 2024. Credit: AP/Victoria Jones

Labour is strongly favored to defeat Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives, who have ejected two leaders -– Boris Johnson and Liz Truss -- since 2022 amid a stuttering economy and a drumbeat of ethics scandals. An election must be held by January 2025, and the date will be decided by Sunak, who has said he expects it to be in the second half of this year.

Starmer said that after turmoil under the Tories, “stability is change, and that’s why it has to be our first step.”

Labour’s pledge card -– and an accompanying advertising campaign featuring Starmer looking resolute -- evoked memories of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who also dragged a fractious party toward the center and won three successive election victories in 1997, 2001 and 2005.

Blair is Labour's most successful leader but remains a controversial figure within the party, reviled by some for taking the U.K. into the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks during his visit...

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks during his visit to the Backstage Centre for the launch of Labour's doorstep offer to voters ahead of the general election, in Purfleet, Essex, England, Thursday May 16, 2024. Credit: AP/Victoria Jones

Some on Labour’s left view Starmer, a lawyer and former head of Britain’s public prosecution service, as too timid. He angered environmentalists earlier this year when he ditched a pledge to invest 28 billion pounds ($35 billion) a year in green projects, saying the Conservative government had left the economy in such dire condition that Labour could no longer commit to the figure.

Last week Starmer welcomed a defecting Conservative lawmaker, Natalie Elphicke, to Labour’s ranks. That made many party members uncomfortable, since Elphicke was considered firmly on the right of the governing party.

Pat McFadden, Labour’s national campaign coordinator, said the party “will not win the election just by appealing to people who always voted Labour.”

“The only way you’re going to win the election is by appealing to people who haven’t traditionally voted for you, and who voted Conservative in many cases in recent elections,” he told the BBC. “That is what the difference between losing and winning is, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of in that.”

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