Tories slash Labour poll lead with voters still ‘wobbly’ on Starmer

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, is pictured in Montreal, Canada, on September 15
The Tories have pulled back eight points on Labour in the polls as Sir Keir Starmer struggles to gain in popularity with the public - Minas Panagiotakis /Getty Images North America

The Conservatives have slashed Labour’s poll lead by eight points in the wake of Rishi Sunak’s net zero overhaul, as an election expert said voters remained “wobbly” on Sir Keir Starmer.

Figures from a Deltapoll survey published on Monday showed the Tories have closed the gap between the parties from 24 points to 16 points in the space of a fortnight.

Sir Keir’s Labour Party is down by three points to 44 per cent overall, while the Conservatives are up by five points to 28 per cent.

The polling was conducted between Friday and Monday, shortly after Mr Sunak watered down the Government’s net zero policies last week.

Changes included moving a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035, and exempting around a fifth of households from a future ban on new oil and gas boilers.

Speaking at an event held by the Tony Blair Institute at the Liberal Democrats’ annual conference in Bournemouth, Tom Lubbock of polling firm JL Partners said Sir Keir was “not very popular” with the public, particularly among swing voters.

He said: “They will be trying to draw that contrast between Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer, who despite this huge polling lead and everybody saying he’s looking good, is still really wobbly. Voters are still quite wobbly on Keir Starmer.”

Mr Lubbock argued that although the Prime Minister had struggled to establish a “personal brand” for the majority of his first year in Downing Street, voters were starting to see a more distinct vision.

Noting his more “contrarian” approach on net zero, he told delegates: “The problem that Rishi Sunak has is that he hasn’t built any kind of positive brand as Prime Minister.

“He had a strong brand as Chancellor of the Exchequer, but he hasn’t actually managed to transfer that brand into 10 Downing Street and take that big moment last year – when he took over from Liz Truss – and build a really strong prime ministerial brand.”

Mr Lubbock argued that Mr Sunak had also failed to create a strong narrative, adding: “Have the events of the last couple of weeks changed either of those dynamics? The answer is they’ve started to.

“They’ve started to build a ‘brand Rishi Sunak’ that is slightly contrarian to the status quo, slightly anti-prevailing wisdom on net zero, potentially on HS2 and reportedly on tax. Do they add up to a ‘brand Rishi Sunak’? We shall see.”

Net zero a clear dividing line

By delaying or diluting a string of net zero moves, the Prime Minister created an immediate dividing line with Labour, which has said it would reverse the delays to the petrol and diesel car ban.

It has also been reported that Mr Sunak is considering scrapping A-levels altogether and introducing a “British Baccalaureate” as part of widespread reforms to education. He has also declined to rule out reports that the northern leg of the HS2 rail project will no longer go ahead.

Counterparts in the Home Office have urged him to make legal migration another focus of the next campaign.

A poll of polls tracker produced by the Politico website shows Labour continues to enjoy an average lead of almost 20 points over the Conservatives.

However, Sir Keir has consistently proven more unpopular than his party as a whole and while Mr Sunak’s personal approval rating has fallen during his time in No 10 to date, he continues to remain more popular than the wider Tory Party brand.

Mr Lubbock summed up the mood of his firm’s focus groups and polling by saying there was a “prevailing view that it’s time for a change”, suggesting this would bode well for both Labour and the Liberal Democrats if it were to last until the next election.

“Rishi Sunak needs to build a narrative – why does he exist as Prime Minister?” he said. “He needs to make sure that when events happen, people see him through that brand, rather than just through the lens of the latest bit of news.”


04:00 PM BST

That is all for today...

Thank you for joining me for today’s politics live blog.

I will be back tomorrow morning.


03:24 PM BST

Lib Dems face criticism over housing policy shift

Young people feel “ignored and let down by those at the top” of the Liberal Democrats because of the party’s approach to housing policy, the chairman of the Young Liberals has said.

The party is currently debating the issue at its autumn conference in Bournemouth, with plans to abandon a 2019 pledge of a national housing target of 380,000 new homes, in favour of local targets.

However, Janey Little, chairman of the Young Liberals, said that the new policy would make young people feel “disillusioned” with the party, writes Genevieve Holl-Allen.  

She said: “Supporting a national target is a clear signal to young people that we as Liberal Democrats are listening and that we are not going to leave young people behind”.


03:08 PM BST

IFS boss suggests HS2 will be total waste of money

Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank, suggested the HS2 railway will end up being a total waste of money as he said the debate over whether it should go ahead made him want to “weep”.

Mr Johnson told Times Radio that the “original sin” was giving the project the greenlight in the first place but now that it was well underway it was probably worth pressing ahead with the Birmingham to Manchester leg:

“This whole thing just makes me want to weep. It makes me despair. I mean, the original sin, as it were, was agreeing to do it in the first place. It was obviously going to be hugely expensive, with relatively little gain from it relative to pretty much anything else you could have done with the railway or transport system, whether that’s making rail connections across the North vastly better or actually building a bunch of bypasses and improving the roundabouts in the road network.

“And we knew that, that this was not the best way you could spend that amount of money. We also know how difficult we find it to build these projects.

“So the original sin was doing it in the first place. Now the question is, once we have started and we’ve already spent many billions on it, what’s the best way forward from here? And there you just need to take a view as to how much additional benefit you get from taking it into Euston or taking it beyond Birmingham to Manchester.

“And actually, that’s where I don’t know whether they’re making the right decision, because the question is, once you’ve got the bit from Acton to Birmingham, how much extra value do you get from the connection to Euston? And I suspect relative to the cost of the total project, probably quite a lot. And the same, I suspect, goes from the bit from Birmingham to Manchester.

“So it rather looks like we’re going to totally waste the money on this in producing a rail at the cost of tens of billions, which will get you from Birmingham to central London less quickly than you can do at the moment.”


02:50 PM BST

Lib Dems receive £1m donation

The Liberal Democrats have received a £1 million boost to their general election war chest after a member left the party the money in his will.

One source said the donation, which is the party’s biggest since 2019, would be “transformational” to the Lib Dems’ election campaign.

A Lib Dem source said: “We are hugely grateful for this donation that will be transformational for the party in winning more seats in the blue wall at the next election.”


02:28 PM BST

Olympic rower James Cracknell to stand as Tory MP at next general election

Double Olympic gold medallist James Cracknell will stand to be a Tory MP at the next election after being selected as the party’s candidate for Colchester.

The champion rower, 51, who helped propel Britain to victory in the 2000 and 2004 coxless four, has been chosen to contest the urban Essex seat by the local Conservatives.

You can read the full story here.


02:01 PM BST

Nissan to go all-electric in Britain by 2030 despite Sunak net zero delay

Nissan has vowed to go all-electric in Europe by 2030 as the Japanese car giant’s chief executive said “there is no going back now”.

Its commitment to the 2030 deadline comes less than a week after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pushed back a ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars to 2035.

You can read the full story here.


01:33 PM BST

'Brand Rishi Sunak' starting to take shape after No10 reset, says pollster

Voters are finally starting to see Rishi Sunak develop a personal brand as Prime Minister, a polling expert has said after major changes to the Government’s net zero policies.

Tom Lubbock of JL Partners said Mr Sunak had failed to take advantage of his first year in Downing Street but was starting to turn the tide by taking a more “contrarian” approach.

He said: “The problem that Rishi Sunak has is that he hasn’t built any kind of positive brand as Prime Minister. He had a strong brand as Chancellor of the Exchequer but he hasn’t actually managed to transfer that brand into No10 Downing Street and take that big moment last year when he took over from Liz Truss and build a really strong prime ministerial brand.”

Arguing that Mr Sunak had also failed to create a strong narrative, Mr Lubbock continued: “Have the events of the last couple of weeks changed either of those dynamics? The answer is they’ve started to.

“They’ve started to build a ‘brand Rishi Sunak’ that is slightly contrarian to the status quo, slightly anti-prevailing wisdom on net zero, potentially on HS2, reportedly on tax. Do they add up to a ‘brand Rishi Sunak’? We shall see.”


01:16 PM BST

Tories slash Labour lead by eight points as voters remain 'wobbly' on Keir Starmer

The Conservatives have slashed Labour’s poll lead by eight points in the wake of a bold Downing Street policy push as an election expert said voters remain “wobbly” on Sir Keir Starmer, writes Dominic Penna. 

Figures from Deltapoll showed the Tories have closed the gap between the parties from 24 points to 16 points in the space of a fortnight.

Labour is down by three points to 44 per cent overall, while the Conservatives are up by five points on 28 per cent. It comes after Rishi Sunak watered down the Government’s net zero policies last week.

Tom Lubbock of JL Partners told a Tony Blair Institute event at the Liberal Democrats’ annual conference today that Sir Keir is “not very popular”, particularly among swing voters who may be tempted to return to the Tories.

“They will be trying to draw that contrast between Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer, who despite this huge polling lead and everybody saying he’s looking good, is still really wobbly. Voters are still quite wobbly on Keir Starmer.”


01:07 PM BST

HS2: The timeline so far

HS2 is a saga which has now rumbled on for almost 15 years. Here are some of the key dates so far:

  • January 2009: Labour establishes HS2 Ltd to examine the case for a new high-speed rail line.

  • January 2012: Transport secretary Justine Greening announces the Coalition Government has decided to go ahead with the project.

  • November 2015: HS2 is given a budget of £55.7 billion.

  • January 2020: An official review finds that HS2 could cost up to £106 billion.

  • February 2020: Prime minister Boris Johnson gives HS2 the go-ahead despite “exploded” costs. Formal beginning of construction is marked in September 2020.

  • November 2021: HS2’s eastern leg between Leeds and the East Midlands is scrapped.

  • March 2023: The Government announces construction of the Birmingham to Crewe leg of HS2 will be delayed by two years. Work at Euston is paused.

  • September 2023: Rishi Sunak considers scrapping the Birmingham to Manchester leg of HS2.


12:59 PM BST

Lib Dems drop plans to raise income tax by 1p

The Liberal Democrats’ annual conference is currently taking place in Bournemouth. My colleague Dominic Penna is there and he reports the party is dropping its plans to raise income tax by one penny:

The Liberal Democrats have dropped plans to raise income tax by a penny to improve public services as they target traditional Tory voters.

Sir Ed Davey said the idea no longer made sense to pursue in the face of cost of living pressures, arguing it would be unfair on households that are already hard-pressed.

Paddy Ashdown introduced the penny-in-the-pound policy during his leadership in 1992 and it has been Liberal Democrat policy ever since.

But in an interview published today – the penultimate day of the annual Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth – Sir Ed insisted “you can’t ask working families to pay more in tax” with Britain’s tax burden already at a post-war high.

You can read the full story here.

Sir Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, is pictured during a visit to Sparsholt College, Hampshire today
Sir Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, is pictured during a visit to Sparsholt College, Hampshire today - Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images Europe

12:31 PM BST

No10 silent on future of HS2

Downing Street remained silent on the future of HS2 at lunchtime when asked if the Government was going to scrap the Birmingham to Manchester leg of the high speed rail network.

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said: “I think we have talked previously and have previously announced decisions to re-phase parts of the project because of affordability pressures which were exacerbated by inflation.

“Beyond that I don’t have more to add to what we discussed last week on HS2. I know there is continued speculation on this and indeed many other topics but for my part I am not going to get into [the detail].”


12:15 PM BST

Pictured: Sir Ed Davey learns to drive a tractor during visit to Hampshire

Sir Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, learns to drive a tractor this morning during a visit to Sparsholt College in Hampshire
Sir Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, learns to drive a tractor this morning during a visit to Sparsholt College in Hampshire - Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images Europe

11:44 AM BST

Sunak and Starmer should have agreed net zero deal, says Brown

Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer should have agreed a cross-party deal on net zero to avoid the issue being used as a “political football”, Gordon Brown said this morning.

Mr Brown said there needed to be a “consensus” if the nation is to “deal with a long-term problem like climate change” after Mr Sunak watered down some of the Government’s green policies last week.

The Labour former prime minister told LBC Radio: “And that means that I think Rishi Sunak should have been talking to Keir Starmer, and they should have said, look, one of us will be in power in the next few years, we’ve got to have a plan that is sensible for business, they’ve got to know when electric cars are going to be the only cars you can buy, they’ve got to know when heat pumps are required.

“So let’s have an agreement on this that survives elections, one that survives the political fights between the parties. And I think it’s the same on HS2, actually. You need a long-term agreement if you’re going to build the infrastructure. You need a long-term agreement if you’re going to do something about climate change.”


11:38 AM BST

Gordon Brown: Government will cause 'chaos' if it scraps northern leg of HS2

Gordon Brown said the Government will cause “confusion and chaos” if it scraps the Birmingham to Manchester leg of HS2.

The former prime minister told LBC Radio: “I think it’s very sad that we can’t get an agreement on this basic infrastructure. You know, every country in Europe is doing high speed rail. It’s becoming the norm rather than the exception, and Britain is in danger of having 19th century solutions to 21st century problems.

“Again, you see the costs have risen. It was £33 billion when we announced it. It’s now likely to be something nearer £100 billion. And something’s got to be done to show that the cost can be kept down.

“But if you embark on a big infrastructure project, you cause confusion and chaos, particularly for Manchester and for the areas in the north, where they also want east/west links as well as north/south links, if you just give up on a project halfway through it. It does not make sense for us to give up all the work that has been done.”


11:17 AM BST

Join the conversation

Telegraph readers are divided over whether the northern leg of HS2 should be scrapped, with the subject a hot topic in today’s comments section.

Reader Elizabeth Kirkby says that “scrapping HS2 is eminently sensible and absolutely the right thing to do. There was never any justification or need for it in the first place. It is more than time to scrap it. Do it right now.”

But reader Jazz Blue argues that “if you’re going to build a massive boondoggle, at least have the courage to finish it. Properly.”

You can join the conversation in the comments section below - just look for the speech bubble icon underneath the first post of the day.


10:51 AM BST

Levelling up agenda 'alive and well', minister insists

Rachel Maclean, the housing minister, insisted the Government’s levelling up agenda is “alive and well” as she responded to the Tory backlash (see the post below at 08.24) prompted by the suggestion that the Birmingham to Manchester HS2 leg could be scrapped.

She told Times Radio: “Ultimately it’s the current Chancellor and the current Prime Minister who has to balance across the whole economy and the pressures that exist across the whole of our public finances.

“When you’re spending taxpayers money, you do have to spend it responsibly, but it remains the case that the levelling up agenda is alive and well.”


10:36 AM BST

Call a general election if you want to 'pull the plug' on HS2, Burnham tells Tories

The Tories do not have a mandate to scrap the Birmingham to Manchester leg of HS2 and should call a general election if they want to abandon it, Andy Burnham has said.

The Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester told Times Radio: “The Conservative Party stood before voters here in Bolton and said, we will level you up, we will invest in the north of England, we will ensure that the North gets the same standard of infrastructure as elsewhere.

“And if they pull the plug, well, quite frankly, those commitments that they made would be utterly meaningless.

“And I would say they shouldn’t really be taking this decision without calling a general election because, you know, it would just not be right for them to do what they’re reportedly planning to do when they do not have a mandate to do it.


10:12 AM BST

Burnham warns of 'North/South chasm' if HS2 leg is scrapped

Andy Burnham said scrapping the Birmingham to Manchester leg of HS2 would result in the “North/South divide” becoming the “North/South chasm”.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester said he is going to write to Rishi Sunak to request a meeting to discuss HS2 and to urge the Prime Minister not to scrap the leg.

However, he said he would be “open to a discussion about prioritising Northern Powerhouse rail and therefore rephasing HS2”.

He told Times Radio: “But the worst thing in the world would be to scrap it because that would leave the north of England with Victorian rail infrastructure for the rest of this century, while the southern half of the country has modern high speed lines. It’s a recipe for the North/South divide to become a North/South chasm, if that’s what they do.”


09:42 AM BST

Reader poll: Should Rishi Sunak axe the northern leg of HS2?


09:28 AM BST

Sunak silent on inheritance tax cut speculation

Rishi Sunak was silent this morning on suggestions he could cut inheritance tax.

There have been reports in recent days that the Government could slash inheritance tax as part of a two stage plan which would eventually see death duties axed entirely.

Asked if he was drawing up plans to cut the tax, Mr Sunak said this morning: “I never would comment on tax speculation, of which there is always plenty. But what I would say is that the most important tax cut I can deliver for the British people is to halve inflation.

“It is inflation that is putting up prices of things, inflation that is eating into people’s savings and making them feel poorer. And the quicker we get inflation down, the better for everybody.

“We are making progress, we saw that in the most recent numbers. The plan is working, but we have got to stick to the plan to bring inflation down and that is the best way to help people with the cost of living.”


09:13 AM BST

Sunak insists he is 'absolutely committed to levelling up' - but won't be drawn on HS2

Rishi Sunak has insisted he is “absolutely committed to levelling up” but refused to comment on “speculation” that he is considering axing the Birmingham to Manchester leg of the high speed railway.

Visiting a community centre in Hertfordshire this morning, which is receiving money from a community ownership fund, the Prime Minister faced questions over how he could be committed to levelling up while considering rowing back on plans to complete the high speed rail line to the North.

He told broadcasters: “I’m not going to comment on that type of speculation. But what I would say is we’re absolutely committed to levelling up and spreading opportunity around the country, not just in the North but in the Midlands, in all other regions of our fantastic country.

“And transport infrastructure is a key part of that, not just big rail projects, but also local projects, improving local bus services, fixing pot holes, all of these things make a difference it people’s day-to-day lives.”

Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, is pictured this morning during a visit to Wormley Community Centre in Broxbourne
Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, is pictured this morning during a visit to Wormley Community Centre in Broxbourne - Hollie Adams/AFP

09:06 AM BST

Lib Dems rule out income tax rises for the wealthy

Sir Ed Davey ruled out tax rises for the rich as he took aim at the Conservatives over the current burden on households.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether wealthier people would pay more under his leadership, Sir Ed said: “As I said before I think the taxes are going up quite a lot already under the Conservatives.”

Pressed on whether they would go up any further under the Lib Dems, he replied: “No also, because over the next few years you’re seeing a big increase in taxes that are already baked in.

“I think there’s a real danger that if we don’t ask those organisations that are doing really well, like the oil and gas companies, like the banks, like the water companies, they have the money.”


09:01 AM BST

Sir Ed Davey: Rejoining single market 'not currently on the table'

Rejoining the European Union’s single market is “not currently on the table”, the Liberal Democrat leader has said in a further attempt to downplay the party’s long-term ambitions over Europe.

Sir Ed Davey said that while he leads a “pro-European party” and wanted Britain at the “heart of Europe”, membership of the EU was “currently not on the table”.

Asked about single market access, Sir Ed told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “That’s not on the table. In 2025 as you know the next government’s going to have to renegotiate the deal. We would certainly want to renegotiate it.”

The party’s “pre-manifesto”, a blueprint for their next general election offering, reads: “Once the ties of trust have been restored, we would aim to place the UK-EU relationship on a more formal basis by seeking to join the single market.”

Sir Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, gets tipped into the water while kayaking at Sandbanks near Bournemouth yesterday as he attended the party's annual conference
Sir Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, gets tipped into the water while kayaking at Sandbanks near Bournemouth yesterday as he attended the party's annual conference - Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images Europe

08:54 AM BST

HS2 risks becoming 'toy town train' because of downgrades, warns Lord Heseltine

HS2 risks becoming a “toy town train” if the original grand vision for the high speed railway continues to be scaled back, Lord Heseltine has argued.

Rishi Sunak is considering scrapping the Birmingham to Manchester leg of the network. Meanwhile, there are also question marks over whether the line will terminate in central London at Euston as originally planned.

Old Oak Common in the west London suburbs is due to be used as a temporary terminus after work at Euston was paused because of surging costs but the Government is thought to be looking at making the former the permanent terminus.

Lord Heseltine, the former deputy prime minister, told Times Radio: “Just imagine, I live in the heart of one of the most controversial parts of the HS2 project and people have been very furious about the loss of property values, the environmental damage… [and now you will] tell them that they are going to be left with a sort of toy town train from somewhere significantly outside central London, going to Birmingham and saving minutes on the journey time for what?

“I think there will be a pent up release of fury.”


08:38 AM BST

Levelling up agenda 'hardly moving', claims Lord Heseltine

Lord Heseltine said the Government’s flagship levelling up agenda is “hardly moving” amid growing speculation that the Birmingham to Manchester leg of HS2 could be scrapped or delayed.

Asked if he agreed that sometimes ministers have to cut their losses on big projects, the former deputy prime minister told Times Radio: “Well, that is what the Treasury would say. It is what they have said about every project all the way through.

“My own view is the commitment to level up this country and make it possible to get to the north much more quickly is a fundamental piece of economic management and the Government’s reputation has been committed to this.

“I have to tell you I think the levelling up agenda has come to a, well, it is hardly moving and there is a vacuum really where everybody knows what needs to be done but the pressures within the political system, the resistance from MPs and all that, prevent it happening.”


08:32 AM BST

Must be 'really detailed inquiry' into ballooning cost of HS2, says Heseltine

There must be a “really detailed inquiry” into the ballooning cost of HS2 to find out how the initial estimated cost of the project proved to be so wide of the mark, Lord Heseltine said.

The high speed railway line was given a budget of about £55billion in 2015 but an official review on 2020 showed the cost had surged to approximately £106billion.

Lord Heseltine, the Tory former deputy prime minister, told Times Radio: “The figures are dreadful, let’s not mess about, and there needs to be a really detailed inquiry as to how people got these figures so wrong.

“But all that said, this is now first of all the levelling up agenda, secondly, national prestige and credibility, and you just can’t have a government that says it is going to do a big infrastructure project which means that lots of people invest very significant sums of money as a consequence believing in it and then cut the ground from underneath their feet.

“They did it last week with the climate change situation… and add that to the uncertainties of Brexit and you have got a country which people are looking at from overseas, and this means overseas investors, looking at you shaking their heads with disbelief.”


08:24 AM BST

Heseltine and Osborne warn Sunak not to scrap HS2 northern leg

Lord Heseltine and George Osborne have warned Rishi Sunak that scrapping the Birmingham to Manchester leg of HS2 would be an “act of huge economic self-harm”.

The former deputy prime minister and the former chancellor said axing the northern leg of the high speed railway would be short sighted and harm the Government’s levelling up claims.

The intervention by the two Tory heavyweights came as Mr Sunak considers whether to scrap or delay the Birmingham to Manchester leg of HS2 in response to soaring costs.

Writing together in The Times, they said: “It would be an act of huge economic self-harm, and be a decision of such short-sightedness that we urge the Prime Minister: Don’t do it.

“How could you ever again claim to be levelling up when you cancel the biggest levelling-up project? How could you claim to be taking difficult decisions for the long term, when you abandon the single largest piece of infrastructure the country is building?”

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