(Bloomberg) -- The UK’s two main political parties took competing positions on the significance of inflation falling to 2.3%, with both seeking to control the economic narrative ahead of a general election expected later this year. 

Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described the data point as a “major moment for the economy” and said “brighter days are ahead.” Trailing in the polls, the Tories know their chances of extending their 14 years in power depend on voters looking beyond the current cost-of-living crisis.

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But Labour hit back, with shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves saying prices for consumers are still “sky high” and that the Tories “can’t defend” their record.

“I can understand why a Conservative prime minister who is richer than the king might want to run to the television studios to tell Brits that they’ve never had it so good,” Reeves wrote in the right-leaning Sun newspaper ahead of the inflation data. People “just need to look at their bank balances and the price of the weekly shop to know they are worse off,” she said.

The two approaches reflect the very different positions of the parties. Sunak, who must hold a UK vote by the end of January but is expected to do so sooner, is trying to restore the Tories’ preferred claim to be the party of economic competence. Britons’ struggles with soaring prices are framed as the product of events beyond UK control, like the pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

In media interviews, it’s often put to ministers that the government had a hand in the economic turmoil, especially the tenure of Liz Truss. But her name rarely appears in their answers. “Mistakes were made,” Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt told BBC radio. “What matters is what happens next.”

The drop in inflation does allow Sunak to claim a victory on one of his key pledges in office. Inflation was running at more than 10% at the beginning of his premiership, and Hunt said the fall would be a “real relief” for families.

Yet economists had expected inflation to fall even faster, which means investors have pared back bets on imminent interest rate cuts by the Bank of England. That’s a setback for the governing Tories because they’ve been hoping that interest rate cuts will deliver a boost to people’s incomes before the election.

Read more: Sunak May Struggle to Turn Key Inflation Victory Into Votes

Across Westminster, the assumption is that Sunak wants a feel-good factor to return in the UK before going to the polls. But even Hunt acknowledged that inflation data alone would not deliver that, given the surge in prices over the last two years that are now locked into price of food and essentials. It was a line that illustrated clearly how the politics of inflation are complicated.

Meanwhile, for obvious reasons Labour wants voters to remember how the last few years have felt. Truss appears frequently in the party’s attacks.

“It’s not game over for high inflation in the UK,” Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Darren Jones, told Bloomberg TV. “Conservative ministers here shouldn’t be starting a victory lap.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer and his shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves are also working to nullify typical Conservative attack lines that accuse Labour of being untrustworthy and profligate with the public finances.

Reeves also tried to take the fight to the Tories directly on inflation on Wednesday with an event on the economy in London, as she set out her plans to diversify supply chains and develop domestic renewable energy sources to reduce the UK’s vulnerability to inflationary shocks.

“The Conservatives have failed to address the problems that got us here in the first place,” Reeves said at the Chatham House think tank. “I honestly believe it’s the worst economic inheritance since the Second World War.”

Last week Hunt used a political speech to say that taxes would inevitably rise if Labour came to power, an intervention that fueled a sense that the general election campaign has effectively begun.

“We’re getting into that slightly silly period before the election is called, where the Conservatives say things that are just daft,” Jones told Bloomberg. “We want the tax burden to come down on working people.”

--With assistance from Irina Anghel.

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