Tory Campaign Faces Criticism Over Levelling Up Funds Amid Labour's Rising Poll Lead

Tory Campaign Faces Criticism Over Levelling Up Funds Amid Labour's Rising Poll Lead

Tory Campaign Faces Criticism Over Levelling Up Funds Amid Labour's Rising Poll Lead

The Conservative Party's general election campaign faced significant turbulence on Saturday as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was accused of using levelling up funds to sway voters. This controversy coincided with Labour achieving its largest poll lead since the brief tenure of Liz Truss.

As Sunak attempted to galvanize his party's campaign ahead of the first crucial TV debate with Labour leader Keir Starmer on Tuesday, it was revealed that more than half of the 30 towns promised £20 million each for regeneration funding were in constituencies won by Tory MPs in the last election. Specifically, 17 of these £20 million allocations went to towns in Conservative-held areas, with only eight awards going to towns in Labour seats.

Accusations of "Pork Barrel" Politics

This funding distribution led to accusations from Sunak’s opponents of engaging in “pork barrel” politics. Critics argued that the announcement was more about securing votes than genuinely addressing the need for levelling up. Henri Murison, chief executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, condemned the move, stating, “This is nothing to do with raising prosperity. This is only about trying to win a few votes at election time.”

Murison further criticized the government’s decision to abolish the UK shared prosperity fund to help finance a national service scheme, describing it as the final “nail in the coffin” for levelling up. The Institute for Fiscal Studies supported this view, finding that Conservative proposals would leave the UK’s poorest regions significantly worse off.

Labour's Lead in Polls

The controversy comes as the latest Opinium poll for the Observer shows Labour with a 20-point lead, the highest recorded since Truss’s short-lived premiership. Labour stands at 45%, up four points from the previous week, while the Conservatives have dropped two points to 25%. Reform UK is at 11%, the Liberal Democrats at 8%, and the Greens at 6%.

The poll also revealed that 45% of respondents viewed the Conservatives' recent announcement to reintroduce a form of mandatory national service for 18-year-olds as a bad idea, compared to 35% who supported it. Additionally, 28% reported a more negative opinion of Sunak since the campaign began, while 18% said their view had improved. Conversely, 28% said their view of Starmer had improved, with 18% reporting a more negative view.

Responses from Political Figures

Edward Leigh, the Conservative candidate for Gainsborough, welcomed the funding, stating that it came after significant lobbying and would be “the greatest boost the town has ever had.” In contrast, Justin Madders, Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, questioned the timing and efficacy of the funding, citing the Conservative Party's “monumental failure to deliver on levelling up over the last four years.”

Lib Dem Treasury spokesperson Sarah Olney criticized the move as a desperate attempt at vote-winning, citing ongoing failures in the NHS and cost of living crises.

Looking Ahead

In anticipation of Tuesday’s debate, Starmer indicated that he would maintain a calm and measured approach rather than seeking a knockout blow against Sunak. Meanwhile, the Tories announced a £1 billion plan to enhance NHS services by modernizing 250 GP surgeries and building 50 new community diagnostic centres.

Labour also reignited the debate over tax policy, urging Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to clarify his stance on VAT increases after comments suggesting potential changes to VAT rates on essential goods.

As the campaign progresses, these developments underscore the intense scrutiny and strategic maneuvering shaping the lead-up to the general election.

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