Rishi Sunak kicks off crucial pre-election Tory conference TODAY as poll shows the gap with Labour narrowing again – while Michael Gove ramps up pressure for tax cuts saying he wants burden cut before the government faces voters

Rishi Sunak is kicking off a crucial pre-election Tory conference today with polls showing the gap to Labour is narrowing – but infighting still threatening to dominate.

The PM is giving his traditional BBC interview as the gathering – his first since taking control of Downing Street – gets under way in Manchester. 

It is probably his last chance to rally the party faithful, with Jeremy Hunt dropping a heavy hint that the government is planning an election as soon as inflation drops to 3 per cent. 

Mr Sunak received a boost overnight as the latest Opinium research found Labour’s advantage has dipped to 10 points, the lowest in a year, in the wake of his shift on Net Zero. The premier has pledged to wind back the ‘war on motorists’, curbing measures such as widespread 20mph zones, as part of his new approach. 

However, there are concerns that internal wrangling could overshadow the PM’s efforts to take the fight to Keir Starmer.

Michael Gove risked inflaming the row over tax cuts this morning by insisting he wants to see the burden reduced before the government faces voters. 

Rishi Sunak is kicking off a crucial pre-election Tory conference today with polls showing the gap to Labour is narrowing – but infighting still threatening to dominate

The PM is giving his traditional BBC interview as the gathering – his first since taking control of Downing Street – gets under way in Manchester

Calls are mounting from the Conservative right wing for immediate tax cuts, while the housebuilding drive could be a flashpoint between shire and Red Wall MPs.  

Kemi Badenoch waded into the row over the European convention on human rights today, insisting that leaving the arrangements should be ‘on the table’ if it is stopping the UK dealing with immigration.

The comments seem to be part of early Tory leadership jockeying, after Home Secretary Suella Braverman made a high-profile visit to the US and gave a speech declaring multiculturalism dead. 

She also lashed out at celebrities such as Sir Elton John for criticising her tough stance on the Channel boats crisis, condemning ‘lecturing’ from ‘out-of-touch pampered elites’. 

Mr Sunak, who arrived in the North West with his wife Akshata Murty last night, tweeted: ‘After nearly a year as Prime Minister, I’ve learnt that the political system incentivises the easy decision, not always the right one.

‘At Conservative Party conference this week, we’ll show that can change.

‘And we’ll do it by taking long-term decisions for a brighter future.’

Mr Sunak will visit a town in Lancashire today to mark the announcement of a £1billion fund to help regenerate towns across the UK.

As part of the package, 55 towns will be given a £20million endowment-style fund – each to be spent over the course of a decade on improvements.

The premier said it was part of a new long-term vision for towns that was about putting ‘funding in the hands of local people’ so they could ‘level up’ their communities.

Some of the places being awarded the funding are part of the so-called Red Wall — constituencies in Labour’s traditional heartlands of the North of England and the Midlands that Boris Johnson won for the Tories during his landslide election victory in 2019 — which Mr Sunak will need to hold at the next election to remain in No 10.

Constituencies such as Great Grimsby in Lincolnshire, Wrexham in Wales and Dudley North in the West Midlands are among those that switched from Labour to the Tories in 2019 and will benefit from the latest towns investment.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said the 55 towns had been selected based on deprivation measures and other factors.

While in Manchester, Mr Sunak is bound to face further questions about the future of HS2 following speculation he is considering axing the second phase between Birmingham and the conference’s host city over cost concerns.

Ahead of the conference, Theresa May became the third former Tory prime minister to urge him not to scale back the major transport project following interventions from Boris Johnson and, according to reports, David Cameron.

Another former prime minister, Mr Sunak’s direct predecessor Liz Truss, is also expected to use a speech at a rally on the fringes of the conference tomorrow to call for corporation tax to be cut to 19 per cent to drive economic growth.

But Mr Sunak and Mr Hunt have played down that prospect, insisting inflation must be brought under control first. According to the Sunday Times, the Chancellor told a private meeting of activists: ‘I’m not wanting to give away anything about the date of the next election – not that I know – but the Bank of England says this time next year it will be three per cent. 

‘So I think the electorate will have a very strong sense of a party that has taken the tough difficult decisions to deal with our most pressing problem.’ 

Ms Braverman used a Mail on Sunday interview to criticise celebrities who spoke out against her speech on migration, made in the United States last week.

Singer Sir Elton John said Ms Braverman, who had argued discrimination for being gay should not be enough to qualify for international refugee protection, risked ‘further legitimising hate and violence’ against LGBT people.

Mrs Braverman, who has been tasked with helping to deliver Mr Sunak’s pledge of stopping boats of migrants from crossing the Channel, said celebrity critics were ‘out-of-touch pampered elites’ who were ‘virtue-signalling’.

Suella Braverman (left) and Kemi Badenoch (right) are vying to talk tough on immigration with leadership manoeuvres for the potential of a Tory election defeat already under way   

In her Stateside intervention, the Home Secretary called for the reform of international treaties, such as the United Nations’ Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), arguing that their definitions of what an asylum seeker is needed to be tightened.

Ms Badenoch told The Sunday Times, adding that leaving the ECHR is ‘definitely something that needs to be on the table’.

No 10 has regularly stated that it remains confident in its legal case for sending asylum seekers arriving via the Channel back to their country of origin or to Rwanda, a policy which is currently being challenged in the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Iceland supermarket chief Richard Walker announced he has quit the party.

Mr Walker, who reportedly previously held ambitions of becoming a Tory MP, told BBC News: ‘It has become clear to me over recent months that the Conservative Party are drifting out of touch with the needs of business, with the environment and also the everyday people that my business touches and serves.’

Speakers at the Tory conference today include Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps and party chairman Greg Hands.

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