Sunak Faces Poll Setback Amid Levelling-Up Controversy

Labour Achieves Largest Lead Since Truss Era as ‘Tory Towns’ Benefit Most from New Funds

The Conservative Party’s general election campaign encountered significant turbulence as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faced allegations of leveraging levelling-up funds for electoral gain. Meanwhile, Labour has surged to its largest poll lead since the tumultuous tenure of Liz Truss.

Accusations of Political Manipulation

During a pivotal weekend for the Tories, Sunak announced regeneration funding for 30 towns, each promised £20 million. However, scrutiny revealed that 17 of these towns are located in constituencies won by Conservative MPs in the last election, igniting claims of “pork barrel” politics. Critics argue that the allocation is a strategic move to secure votes rather than a genuine effort to address regional disparities.

Henri Murison, chief executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, denounced the funding announcement, stating, “This is nothing to do with raising prosperity. This is only about trying to win a few votes at election time.” He highlighted the government’s recent decision to abolish the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which has further exacerbated concerns about the sincerity of the levelling-up agenda.

Labour’s Poll Surge

Despite internal disputes, Labour has capitalized on the controversy, with the latest Opinium poll for the Observer showing a 20-point lead over the Conservatives. Labour’s support has risen to 45%, while the Conservatives have fallen to 25%. This marks the highest lead for Labour since the brief and chaotic premiership of Liz Truss.

The poll also indicated growing discontent with Sunak’s leadership, with 28% of respondents viewing him more negatively since the campaign began. In contrast, Labour leader Keir Starmer’s approval ratings have improved, with 28% of people now holding a more positive view of him.

Key Issues and Campaign Strategies

The Conservative campaign has also been criticized for its proposal to reintroduce a form of mandatory national service for 18-year-olds, which has been met with mixed reactions. The Opinium poll revealed that 45% of respondents opposed the idea, compared to 35% who supported it.

In response to the funding row, Sunak defended the allocations, claiming the party has directed over £15 billion to neglected areas across the UK since 2019. A Conservative spokesman asserted that the funding targets the most deprived towns with the greatest need for levelling up.

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Responses from Opposition

Justin Madders, Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, dismissed the Conservative promises, questioning their credibility after years of unmet levelling-up commitments. Similarly, Lib Dem Treasury spokesman Sarah Olney described the funding pledge as a “desperate attempt at pork barrel politics” that fails to address longstanding issues in the NHS and the cost of living crisis.

Looking Ahead

As the campaign progresses, Sunak aims to galvanize his party ahead of the crucial TV debate with Keir Starmer. Meanwhile, Starmer, in a strategic move, has indicated he will maintain a calm and measured approach during the debate, aiming to solidify his position without resorting to aggressive tactics.

The political landscape remains dynamic as both parties navigate controversies and strategic decisions in the lead-up to the election.

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