Sunak pledges cash to towns as Starmer pitches ‘wealth creation’

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged cash to towns, while Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said “wealth creation” is his top priority as the General Election campaign enters its second weekend.

The Tories will seek to paint a positive picture of their record on levelling-up, after announcing a pledge to give 30 towns £20 million, which Labour has described as a “reckless, unfunded” commitment.

As part of the scheme the Tories pledge that local people, not those in Westminster, will decide how the money will be spent.

Some of the towns proposed to be added include: Tamworth, Preston, Corby, Halifax, Bognor Regis, Newtown, Flint, Perth and Newry.

A number of the towns standing to benefit from the £20 million are in Labour-held constituencies, but 17 were represented by Tory MPs in the last parliament.

Newcastle-under-Lyme – a gain for the Tories in the Red Wall in 2019 – made the list just as the former MP Aaron Bell announced he would not stand for re-election.

Mr Sunak said: “We, the Conservatives, have a plan for towns because we know they are the beating heart of our country.

“This bold action will transform 30 more towns – reviving their high streets, growing their local economies and making people feel proud of the place they call home.”

Science minister Andrew Griffith acknowledged the policy would take time to take effect.

He told the BBC’s Today programme on Saturday: “This is good news that a further 30 towns spread across the whole United Kingdom will benefit from an endowment-style funding that’s their money to spend on things like safety and security, improving regenerating the high street.

“Of course, the nature of having a local initiative like that is not every single one of them is going to work at exactly the same speed.”

Boy confronts PM
Henry Hassell, who lives in Drewsteignton, in west Devon who confronted Rishi Sunak (Handout/PA)

The Prime Minister is on Saturday campaigning in the North East, venturing into the so-called red wall after his campaign has so far focused on shoring up the Tory vote.

It comes after Mr Sunak went viral on TikTok after he was confronted by a 16-year-old singer-songwriter at The Drewe Arms in west Devon who asked him why he “hates young people so much”.

Student Henry Hassell, who lives in Drewsteignton, told the PA news agency that Mr Sunak “started scuttling out the pub” and tried to “escape the question” when he quizzed him on national service.

Henry said it has been “crazy” to see the video “blowing up”, with close to 100,000 views on TikTok.

After being cleared of an investigation by Greater Manchester Police and HMRC, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner is ready to “power up” as she unveils the Labour battle bus on Saturday.

General Election campaign 2024
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Sir Keir and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves will join Ms Rayner as she sets off on a 5,000-mile journey to battleground seats across the country.

Ms Rayner will brandish the Conservatives’ ‘levelling-up’ pledge as a “phoney gimmick” as data released from Labour claims to expose the areas set to be worst hit if the Conservatives get back into Government.

In the Times, Sir Keir has pitched to the middle class and the middle ground as he told the paper his “number one mission is wealth creation”.

He added: “I think you win from the centre ground, the centre ground is where most people are.

“As a nation, broadly speaking we’re a pretty reasonable, tolerant bunch but we are in the centre ground of politics. People don’t like the extremes of the right or the left.

“They are reasonably tolerant. They want themselves, their families and the country to improve and make progress.”

Sir Keir will on Saturday announce a number of proposed employment support and welfare benefits reforms aimed at increasing the employment rate from 75% to 80%.

This includes a new combined national jobs and careers service, local plans for work, health and skills support, and a guarantee of opportunities for young people.

The Labour leader said in a statement: “The first step of my Labour government will be to create economic stability, which means getting a grip of the spiralling welfare bill that’s gone out of control under the Tories.

“We will set about, within days of a future government, reforming work support to get more people into work.”

Two of the most high-profile targets of what had been called Party Leader Sir Keir’s “purge” of left-wing members – Diane Abbott and Faiza Shaheen – saw diverging fates.

Ms Shaheen told supporters at a rally on Friday evening: “I must be honest – after the way I’ve been treated, I don’t think there’s any way back for me into the Labour Party.”

The academic also hinted at an independent run in the Chingford and Woodford Green constituency she was denied as a Labour candidate, saying: “I’m going to make some decisions with the team over the next few days and I may ask you to do something really big for all of us.”

Meanwhile, veteran Labour MP Diane Abbott was finally given the greenlight from Sir Keir as he said she was “free” to put herself forward to stand for the party in Hackney North and Stoke Newington.

Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) is expected to ratify the decision when it meets on Tuesday.

The anger at candidate choices was not confined to one region as former Welsh Labour MP Beth Winter called candidate announcements there an “insult to Wales”.

Think tank chief and former Labour aide Torsten Bell have been selected as Welsh Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Swansea West, while executive director of legal affairs for the Labour Party, Alex Barros-Curtis, was selected for Cardiff West.