Politics latest news: Sir Keir Starmer begins damage limitation as Tories take 17-point poll lead in Hartlepool

Cat Neilan
·39-min read

Sir Keir Starmer has begun his damage limitation before the ballot boxes even open, after a new poll put the Conservatives 17 points ahead in the critical Hartlepool by-election.

Tory candidate Jill Mortimer is in the lead with 50 per cent, while Labour's hopeful Paul Williams has slipped nine points to 33 per cent, according to Survation.

The same poll showed a 4 per cent bump in personal favourability for Boris Johnson in Hartlepool, with Sir Keir Starmer sliding the same amount.

The Labour leader told ITV's GMB, which commissioned the poll, he was "climbing that mountain" to reconnect with voters.

Asked if he would resign if the Red Wall seat turns blue, he added: "I never thought, and I don't think anyone realistically thought, we could go from devastating defeat in 2019 and mend all that in a year and a half."

He told Radio 4's Today programme: "I hope we won't lose Hartlepool ... [but] I take full responsibility for the results, just as I take full responsibility for everything that happens in the Labour party under my leadership."

​​Follow the latest updates below.

02:57 PM

Home Secretary: UK-India partnership will attract 'best and brightest'

Home Secretary Priti Patel has hailed the new UK-India partnership, saying it would help attract the "best and brightest" to the UK while at the same time strengthening the processes for returning Indian nationals with no legal right to be in the country.

"This landmark agreement with our close partners in the government of India will provide new opportunities to thousands of young people in the UK and India seeking to live, work and experience each other's cultures," she said.

Earlier Boris Johnson promised "a quantum leap" in the relationship, following a virtual bilateral with his counterpart Narendra Modi (see 2:14pm)

02:51 PM

Sorry, Count Binface, no one likes your Phoebe Waller-Bridge idea

In London, incumbent mayor Sadiq Khan is so far ahead of his Tory rival that the interesting battles are between the independent candidates.

Unfortunately for Count Binface, just 14 per cent of Londoners back his policy to rename London Bridge after Fleabag creator and actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

In fact, his policy was the least popular of seven ideas tested with the general public - including scrapping the office of mayor altogether.

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

02:45 PM

Sir David Amess distances himself from leaflet claims

Southend West MP Sir David Amess has distanced himself from a comment circulated on social media claiming that "Government ministers are reluctant to go that extra mile for an opposition-controlled local council".

A spokesman for the MP said: "Sir David is both shocked and horrified. The quote is absolutely not from him and the person who made up the quote never spoke to Sir David about it or asked his permission to use it.

"It most certainly does not reflect his views."

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "I would disagree with any claim that the Government isn't focused on delivering for people across the entire UK.

"We've talked about the levelling-up work and that goes directly to this, that's about providing opportunity across the country."

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

02:17 PM

Mayoral elections latest - Sadiq Khan on course for second term

Sadiq Khan is on course for a second term in this week's mayoral race, a poll shows - FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Sadiq Khan is on course for a second term in this week's mayoral race, a poll shows - FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Some good news for Labour in the polls, for a change.

The latest research by Opinium shows that Sadiq Khan will take a second term in this week's London Mayoral elections, with 48 per cent of the vote.

Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate, is polling second on 29 per cent, while the Lib Dems and Greens languish on eight per cent and seven per cent respectively.

Laurence Fox, who is running on an anti-lockdown ticket for the Reclaim Party, is polling at 3 per cent.

02:00 PM

The polling bow tie: How Lib Dem voters became Tories

It's not just Labour who are suffering in the polls.

The Liberal Democrats, who just 16 years ago came second in Hartlepool with 30 per cent of the vote, are now on less than one per cent, according to the Survation poll.

As Chris Curtis, of rival pollster Opinium, points out, there has been a long-term trend of former voters who switched to Ukip ultimately backing the Tories.

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.
To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

01:47 PM

Rishi Sunak to host G7 finance ministers face-to-face

Chancellor Rishi Sunak will host his G7 counterparts for an in-person meeting in June.

Finance ministers from the group will meet at Lancaster House, London on June 4-5. Their talks will take place the week before G7 leaders meet in Cornwall.

It follows Dominic Raab's successful hosting of the foreign ministers today.

01:42 PM

Collapsed trial must mark 'lowest point in treatment of veterans', says ex-minister

Johnny Mercer has hailed the collapse of a trial against two former paratroopers accused of the murder of Official IRA leader Joe McCann in 1972.

The unnamed men were formally acquitted today after the Public Prosecution Service confirmed it would not appeal against a decision by Mr Justice O'Hara to exclude statements given by the ex-soldiers.

The former veterans minister said: "Should never have happened. Hopefully this marks the lowest point in this Nation’s treatment of her Veterans. Government must act."

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

01:29 PM

Double or quits: Labour accuses PM of 'another cover up'

The sleaze allegations might be failing to cut through, but that isn't stopping Labour from having another go.

This time the party is accusing Boris Johnson of "another cover up", after Number 10 failed to deny reports that a Conservative donor was asked to fund the childcare costs for his one-year old son Wilfred (see 1:35pm).

Angela Rayner, Labour's deputy leader, said: "What did these donors expect in return for their generosity, and what were they promised?

"With an investigation already underway into potentially illegal activity, the Prime Minister and Conservative Party should stop taking the British people for fools and immediately publish all correspondence relating to all attempts to get Tory donors to fund the Prime Minister's lifestyle."

Is sleaze really 'priced in' with Boris Johnson? Have your say in our poll below (1:54pm).

01:22 PM

Vaccine rates will recover from bank holiday slump, says minister

The daily vaccine figures will start to climb, minister Nadhim Zahawi has said.

Yesterday saw just 208,362 registered across the whole of the UK, including fewer than 60,000 first doses and fewer than 100,000 second doses in England.

The i journalist Hugo Gye - who has become something of a fixture on social media with his regular updates on the tally - suggested this was down to a bank holiday slump.

Thankfully, the vaccine minister agrees.

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

01:14 PM

Boris Johnson pledges 'quantum leap' in relations with India

Boris Johnson has pledged "a quantum leap in the UK-India relationship", following a virtual bilateral with his counterpart Narendra Modi.

The pair, who were forced to meet remotely after the PM's much-delayed trip was cancelled, spoke this afternoon to cement their relationship, which sees the UK elevated to a ‘comprehensive strategic partnership’ with India - the first European country to be granted that status.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Johnson said: "In the last week the British people have stepped up in their thousands to support our Indian friends during this terrible time in a demonstration of the deep connection between the UK and India.

"This connection will only grow over the next decade as we do more together to tackle the world’s biggest problems and make life better for our people. The agreements we have made today mark the beginning of a new era in the UK-India relationship."

01:08 PM

What to expect when you're expecting election results in a pandemic....

Don't expect the usual race to count the ballots this week - Getty
Don't expect the usual race to count the ballots this week - Getty

The short version is: don't wait up.

As we saw in the US last November, the count is likely to be long and slow - results could be announced as late as Monday, slowed by Covid compliance and complicated votes.

Hartlepool will be one of the first to announce, with plans to count the ballots in this critical by-election overnight, along with some of the local councils also attempting an early conclusion.

But Scotland is not expected to count overnight, so the Holyrood results could be made public on Friday at the earliest. Several of the mayoral races will not come through until Saturday, while the new police commissioners might not be named until Monday.

01:01 PM

Labour MPs call for reshuffle as election nightmare looms

It's not just the sleaze allegations that aren't cutting through, judging by this morning's polls, which would have made for dismal reading for any Labour campaigner.

Hartlepool is the first electoral test of Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership and move away from Labour’s Corbyn years - but insiders fear he is just not connecting with the voters who defected in 2019. Labour MPs are worried the party is "not cutting through" in Hartlepool and called for a "major change in direction".

"This is a teller of: has he been able to lead the party as he campaigned to, or has he ended up focusing too much on too much sectoral interest in certain areas of the country and forgotten other areas?" one MP tells my colleague Tony Diver.

"A reshuffle might make a difference."

Read more: Keir Starmer's leadership is 'not cutting through', Labour MPs warn

12:54 PM

Have your say: Is sleaze really 'priced in' with Boris Johnson?

Labour has been giving the sleaze allegations plenty of welly - but as several polls this morning reveal, it's not moving the dial on voting intentions.

Commentators, opponents and even some Tories have suggested that Wallpapergate or "cash for curtains" isn't cutting through to the general public because that kind of behaviour is "priced in" when it comes to Boris Johnson.

It's true to say these aren't the first allegations that have surfaced about the Prime Minister - a man who has never lectured others on how they should live.

But given the pandemic and concerns about post-recovery livelihoods, is it simply that people have more pressing concerns?

Have your say in the poll below.

12:41 PM

Vaccine passports pose 'real danger' to inequality and trust issues, MPs told

The vaccine and vaccine passport could pose a "real danger" to widening inequalities as the country emerges from the pandemic, MPs have been told.

Professor Stephen Reicher told the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus that with vaccine hesitancy higher among certain ethnicities and age groups, authorities must be "very careful" about increasing inequalities and exacerbating distrust.

"Groups which have more of a history, if you like, a troubled relationship with government and the state, are more suspicious," he said.

"So younger age groups see vaccine passports to go to the pub, to go to a restaurant, to go to non-essential shops, they see them as more of an attack on liberties. Black people see them as more of an attack on liberties."

12:30 PM

People should not shrug off Boris Johnson sleaze allegations, says Sir Keir Starmer

Starmer: We should never accept that the PM isn't being straight - PA
Starmer: We should never accept that the PM isn't being straight - PA

Sir Keir Starmer has said the country should never accept that sleaze is 'priced in' when it comes to Boris Johnson.

During a campaign visit to tech firm Qioptiq in St Asaph, North Wales, the Labour leader was challenged on why his attack lines aren't working.

He said: "There is evidence of sleaze, of contracts for mates, privileged access, Whatsapp access, and that is wrong, and this sense that there's one rule for those at the top of Government and another rule for everybody else, is wrong.

"And I don't actually go along with this argument that says, 'well it's priced-in, it may be that the Prime Minister is not being straight but it doesn't really matter.'

"Being the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is an honour. It's a privilege and we should not ever accept that it's priced-in there should be sleaze or the Prime Minister isn't being straight."

12:25 PM

Lobby latest: No 10 dodges questions about Boris Johnson's childcare costs

Number 10 has refused to deny reports in the Sunday papers claiming that a Conservative donor was asked to fund the childcare costs for Boris Johnson's one-year old son Wilfred.

Asked about the stories, the spokesman reiterated statements given at the weekend that “the Prime Minister has covered all the costs of all childcare”.

However there was no clarification over whether donations had originally been sought.

Asked whether the Prime Minister considered childcare to be expensive in this country, his spokesman added: "The Government provides substantial support for parents to get back to work, which is well taken up by parents."

If the PM does believe childcare is expensive, perhaps he could take a leaf out of Joe Biden's book.

The US President has just pledged that no household will spend more than seven per cent of its income on childcare: in the UK, the average cost for two children is 55-67 per cent of the average wage.

12:15 PM

Lobby latest: No change to roadmap despite massive fall in Covid cases

There will be no change to the timelines of the roadmap out of lockdown, despite a rapid decline in cases.

Yesterday just one Covid-related death was confirmed across the UK, while cases have fallen to 22.9 per 100,000.

The next phase is expected to be introduced on May 17, with households allowed to mix indoors.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said the latest figures were "in line with expectations, which is hugely encouraging and a credit to the vaccine rollout and to the British public".

"But that emphasises the need to adhere to the road map which provides that certainty and stability that the public and business have been asking for."

12:10 PM

Lobby latest: Tory MP to develop 'bold policy interventions' on levelling up

Neil O'Brien will be charged with developing "bold policy interventions" as part of his new role as Boris Johnson's levelling up adviser (see 12:36pm).

Speaking shortly after his role was announced, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said that the MP for Harborough would be working with Government departments on developing policies ahead of a "levelling up" white paper.

"His role is going to be to work alongside departments to develop the policies that sit within that - the bold policy interventions which are going to help improve opportunity and boost livelihoods across the country," the spokesman said.

"We are making multibillion-pound investments to transform the country's prosperity and spread opportunity already.

"We have the opportunity to go further and that is the work Neil O'Brien has taken up."

12:05 PM

Poll: Tees Valley mayor set for landslide victory

It's not just Hartlepool (see 8:11am and throughout), or the West Midlands (see 9:06am), where Labour looks set for a wash-out.

A new poll suggests that it is game over in Tees Valley, where the Conservative mayor Ben Houchen is on course to win with 63 per cent of the vote. Labour's Jessie-Joe Jacobs trails with just 37 per cent, according to Opinium.

The 34-year-old is making a name for himself on a national scale thanks to his local support.

Lauren McEvatt, a former Spad, says Mr Houchen is "in his area, the most popular and brand recognised politician outside the national political stage that I’ve ever seen".

He and Andy Street were "two amazing, independent-minded candidates who show what a fresh perspective and boundless energy can do for people and their regions", adds Daniel Korski, a former adviser to David Cameron.

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

11:44 AM

In the red corner: Sadiq Khan spars on the campaign trail

Once upon a time you couldn't move at election time for pictures of politicians kissing babies.

These days, you are far more likely to see them sparring.

This time it's Sadiq Khan. He may not be giving Anthony Joshua any sleepless nights, but he at least seems more comfortable in the ring than Sir Keir Starmer did last week.

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

11:36 AM

Boris Johnson hires levelling up adviser ahead of white paper launch

Boris Johnson will publish a white paper on levelling up later this year, Number 10 has revealed, with Harborough MP Neil O'Brien being brought on as the PM’s levelling up adviser.

It's not clear what the difference between an adviser and a minister is in this case, with Mr O'Brien being charged with working alongside a number of departments to help shape policy. It sounds not dissimilar to the now-defunct Northern Powerhouse position once held by Jake Berry.

In its announcement No 10 said the white paper would set out "how bold new policy interventions will improve opportunity and boost livelihoods across the country as we recover from the pandemic.

"The white paper - which will be led by the Prime Minister - will focus on challenges including improving living standards, growing the private sector and increasing and spreading opportunity."

11:21 AM

Boris Johnson must confront the worst-case scenario for the Union

We may be reaching the endgame of the Union, writes Sherelle Jacobs.

Its demise in coming years is not inevitable – but it is plausible. Nicola Sturgeon’s imminent victory in the Holyrood elections on Thursday will ramp up pressure for a new Scottish referendum. Meanwhile, an ugly putsch against Arlene Foster is just the start of the Northern Ireland Protocol's fallout. The Prime Minister may well stave off a Scottish exit. If Nicola Sturgeon attempts to hold a unilateral independence referendum, his willingness to take the SNP to the Supreme Court could call her bluff. The First Minister’s appeal treads a fine line between plucky presidentialism and Trumpish truculence. For undecided voters, a potentially illegal “advisory” referendum could prove too vulgar a stunt. Yet it is also time for No 10 to consider seriously the worst-case scenarios.

Read the rest of Sherelle's column here.

11:12 AM

Hartlepool poll reignites row between Labour MP and union boss

A row between a senior Labour MP and a union boss rumbled on this morning, following the publication of the Survation poll giving the Tories a 17 point lead against their rivals in Hartlepool.

CWU general secretary Dave Ward and Ben Bradshaw, the MP for Exeter, locked horns last month after his union commissioned a poll showing the party was seven points behind the Tories ahead of the Hartlepool by-election.

Mr Bradshaw suggested the union should be "helping on the Labour doorstep... instead of spending CWU members’ money on a dodgy-looking unweighted poll with leading questions".

Following today's rather more emphatic poll, here is what Mr Ward had to say:

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

11:03 AM

Campaigning with... Staffordshire Moorlands MP Karen Bradley

Conservative MP Karen Bradley says Wallpapergate is only mentioned 'in a jokey way' - AFP
Conservative MP Karen Bradley says Wallpapergate is only mentioned 'in a jokey way' - AFP

Karen Bradley has taken a break from campaigning to give the Telegraph a quick sense of what the issues are on the doorstep ahead of Thurday's vote.

"Campaigning locally, I don’t detect any switch from Conservatives to Labour, although it’s difficult to tell whether that is because of or in spite of the current Labour leadership," the Staffordshire Moorlands MP says.

"People do mention the redecoration of Downing Street unprompted, but largely in a jokey way," she adds.

"Given the weather forecast for Thursday, I suspect it’s the postal votes that will decide the results, and most of them have already been returned."

10:55 AM

Why did Labour pick a Remainer to fight a Leave seat?

Sir Keir Starmer wants to believe he is right when he says 'we are all leavers now' - Getty
Sir Keir Starmer wants to believe he is right when he says 'we are all leavers now' - Getty

Sir Keir Starmer this morning has said he will take "full responsibility" for Labour's election results this week - although it seems unlikely he will step down just over a year into the job.

But serious questions will be asked about his judgement if the party loses Hartlepool, as now seems likely, having clung on during the 2019 vote which saw the Tories take chunks out of the Red Wall.

One of those questions will be why a Remainer was chosen to fight a heavily Leave-leaning seat. At 69.4 per cent of the 2016 vote, Hartlepool record the biggest margin of victory for Brexit in the region.

There are two likely reasons: firstly, it was presumably hoped that as an NHS frontline worker Dr Williams would appeal to all those who have suffered in the pandemic.

Secondly, Sir Keir wants to believe that he is right when he says "we are all Leavers now".

The truth is, those identities are not so easily shaken off by some, particularly those who are still waiting for the benefits to come through.

10:37 AM

Hartlepool: The battle by the sea

Labour is going all out to try and defend their long-held seat of Hartlepool, sending a series of shadow ministers to campaign alongside Paul Williams for Thursday's by-election.

Wes Streeting, shadow schools minister, is there today.

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

10:12 AM

Robert Halfon: Wallpapergate is harming Labour, not Tories

Keir Starmer's mockery of Wallpapergate is landing badly with voters in towns - PA
Keir Starmer's mockery of Wallpapergate is landing badly with voters in towns - PA

"Labour looks so out of touch," Harlow MP Rob Halfon tells the Telegraph during a brief break from campaigning.

"Partly it is still the hangover from the Corbyn years... but in towns they look incredibly metropolitan and obsessed with virtue signalling."

The public are focused on post-Covid recovery - "are they going to have jobs, can they put food on the table?" and Labour's obsession with Wallpapergate is backfiring. "No one cares," he says.

Whether Boris Johnson is using John Lewis or Lulu Lytle means little to those who would normally be bargain-hunting in Argos.

"Boris has been pictured at vaccine centres and schools. If people have seen a photo of Keir Starmer, it's of him holding a roll of wallpaper in John Lewis - that is the one photo people will remember."

10:07 AM

Campaigning with... Harlow MP Robert Halfon

Halfon: Not a soul has brought up Wallpapergate - PA
Halfon: Not a soul has brought up Wallpapergate - PA

Harlow MP Rob Halfon took five minutes out of campaigning to give the Telegraph a quick sense of what the issues are on the doorstep ahead of Thurday's vote.

"Genuinely not a soul has brought up Wallpapergate - not a soul," he says. "I have had three or four automated emails and that is it. The key issues are Covid, the cost of living, housing, bin collections and regeneration of the town."

He compares that with 'Cummingsgate' - the ill-advised trip to Barnard Castle taken by Dominic Cummings during lockdown, when he received "hundreds of emails", adding: "That just shows the difference."

09:52 AM

Watch: Liz Truss quizzed over ministerial code

Liz Truss has been asked repeatedly whether Boris Johnson should resign if it is found that he broke the ministerial code over the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat.

During an interview with GMB, the International Trade Secretary gets visibly annoyed - but flat-bats the question.

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

09:44 AM

Dominic Cummings to be asked about 'let bodies pile high' comment

Dominic Cummings will be appearing before MPs on May 26 - Reuters
Dominic Cummings will be appearing before MPs on May 26 - Reuters

Dominic Cummings will be asked whether he heard Boris Johnson say he would rather "let bodies pile high" than impose a second national lockdown, Jeremy Hunt has confirmed.

The chairman of the health committee and one-time leadership rival told the i newspaper the hearing on May 26 is "going to be very interesting".

"He wants to talk about what actually happened inside government the moment the pandemic hit," Mr Hunt said.

The former foreign secretary has also admitted he would not have won as big a majority as the man he lost out to, saying he has to "give credit where it’s due" to the man who beat him to become Tory leader in 2019.

“This pandemic would have been a whole lot worse if we had had a hung Parliament, can you imagine? What a nightmare it would have been to take all the measures the Government had to take," he said.

09:19 AM

Tories' Hartlepool poll lead 'expected' without Brexit Party threat

While the Survation poll might be a little bullish on the Tories' chances in Hartlepool, it certainly points to their likely success.

It might not be the case that we see Conservative victory in which Jill Mortimer unseats her Labour rival from a seat the party has held since 1974 with a comfortable lead of 17 per cent.

But without the Brexit Party stealing away votes from this pro-Leave seat, the Tories could clean up - as Paula Surridge, senior lecturer at the University of Bristol and deputy director at UK in a Changing Europe, puts it.

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

09:04 AM

Boris Johnson: Labour have taken Hartlepool for granted for 57 years

Boris Johnson has claimed that Labour has "taken Hartlepool for granted for 57 years" as he joined the campaign to turn the Red Wall seat blue yesterday.

It's telling that the current Prime Minister of the party that has been in power for over a decade is able to position Jill Mortimer as the candidate for change.

Such is the appetite for a break with the establishment that the pro-Remain former MP Dr Paul Williams is being painted as part of the problem.

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

08:56 AM

SNP lead wavers as Scottish support for indyref2 wanes

While much of the focus this morning has been on Hartlepool, following an emphatic new poll giving the Tories a 17 per cent lead over Labour, in Scotland the situation is less certain.

A new Survation poll show another slip drop in in support for a second independence referendum, with those in favour falling two points to 47 per cent, while those against it have climbed to 53 per cent.

Meanwhile there has also been a three per cent drop in support for the SNP, but no gains for Tories who remain level pegging with Labour.

That leaves Nicola Sturgeon's party well ahead with 47 per cent of the vote, while the pro-union rivals are on 21 per cent apiece.

That doesn't particularly change the dial from previous polls - suggesting the final result could be a slight erosion of the SNP's position.

08:50 AM

SNP’s reckless ‘neverendum’ will make losers of Scotland and Britain

It might be a thumping win for the Scottish National Party, writes Matthew Lynn. It might be a hung Parliament with the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon remaining in power with the help of the Greens or even Alex Salmond’s new Alba Party. There might even be a resurgence for the Labour or Conservative parties, clipping the wings of the separatists. The Scottish vote on Thursday still hangs in the balance.

One thing is surely clear however. The economy - both in Scotland and the whole of the UK - will be the loser. Why? If the SNP wins a clear majority, there will be a bruising battle over a second independence referendum, with all the uncertainty and chaos that will create, potentially followed by the even more damaging prospect of unravelling the ties between two economies that have been united for three hundred years.And yet, if there is no clear majority for the SNP, there will simply be a ‘Neverendum’, an unending campaign to run down rule from London.

Read the rest of Matthew's column here.

08:43 AM

Why you shouldn't be surprised if Tories talk down their poll lead

Boris Johnson warned of a "tough" ride at the polls - but no one really believes it - PA
Boris Johnson warned of a "tough" ride at the polls - but no one really believes it - PA

A 17 point lead is a whopper by any stretch of the imagination. The fact it's happening for the Tories in a seat that has been Labour since its creation in 1974 makes that potentially even more of an upset. But you're unlikely to hear those campaigning for Jill Mortimer making much of it.

During a visit to a seafront fish and chip restaurant in the north-eastern constituency yesterday, the Prime Minister said: "I have always believed that it was going to be a tough fight, and I still believe that is the case."

Firstly, this is down to expectation management: Polls are often wrong (as we have seen with pretty much all the major votes in recent years, they can be wildly out).

Secondly, and more crucially, is the nudge factor. If people who are on the fence about how to vote think it's sewn up, they might not bother. With an election on a knife edge they are more likely to get out and vote.

Read more: Will more bricks fall from the 'Red Wall'?

08:29 AM

Sir Keir Starmer 'beyond frustrated' by lack of human contact during leadership

Sir Keir Starmer has said he is "beyond frustrated" that he hasn't had more opportunities to connect with the public since becoming leader, as it becomes increasingly likely that Labour is on course for a dismal set of results on Thursday.

The Labour leader told Radio 4's Today programme he was hoping to challenge the "inequality that's built into our economic model", saying it is not just "morally unjust, but it's economically stupid."

However, asked what has been most challenging in getting that message across since he took the reins, Sir Keir said: "I would like to just get out and about, I have been beyond frustrated, I haven't addressed a room full of people as leader of the Labour Party.

"Every single speech has been in a sterile room, down the barrel of a camera, deeply, deeply frustrating. Forget kissing babies, I've not even been able to shake the hands of a single voter."

08:12 AM

Dominic Raab welcomes Anthony Blinken for G7 summit

Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, greets Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State - Bloomberg
Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, greets Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State - Bloomberg

Foreign ministers from the G7 group of industrialised nations have arrived at Lancaster House in London for their first summit in more than two years.

The meeting, which has strict coronavirus protocols, will consider some of the major issues facing the world, including how to deal with China, Russia and Iran.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, wearing a face mask, welcomed counterparts from France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada, the US and EU, with awkward forearm bumps replacing the usual handshakes.

Along with the problems of coronavirus, the blustery weather also posed difficulties for the Foreign Office, with the red carpet rolled out for the visiting diplomats initially refusing to stay in place in the gusts whipping across the Lancaster House courtyard.

08:06 AM

More bad new for Labour in West Midlands mayoral race

West Midlands mayor Andy Street is on course to defeat Labour rival Liam Byrne - PA
West Midlands mayor Andy Street is on course to defeat Labour rival Liam Byrne - PA

There is more bad polling news for Labour as Andy Street, the Conservative West Midlands mayor, looks set to be returned with a larger lead than he enjoyed last time.

Mr Street, a former John Lewis head honcho, was elected in 2017 with 41.9 per cent of the vote in the first round, increasing to 50.4 per cent in the second.

But a new Opinium poll for The Times has him winning by 17 points on first preferences, on 54 per cent of the vote, leaving Labour hopeful and former minister Liam Byrne trailing on just 37 per cent.

07:54 AM

Chopper's Politics: Could the Hartlepool by-election see another brick in the Blue Wall?

Was the last general election the start of an enduring rewiring of British politics? To answer that, look first to Hartlepool, where voters will be deciding their next MP on Thursday.

It’s a seat never before held by the Tories, and it’ll provide the first hint of whether the fall of the Red Wall in 2019 was merely a temporary, Brexit-driven hiccup for Labour.

The Telegraph’s chief political correspondent, Christopher Hope has jumped on a train to meet co-chair of the Conservative party Amanda Milling, to find out why she believes the opposition has taken the area for granted, whether a candidate from Yorkshire is truly the best person to take the seat, and why she’s confident the Downing Street refurbishment row hasn’t stretched beyond “the Westminster bubble”.

07:50 AM

Third wave caused by vaccine-beating variant still main concern, says Prof Ferguson

The risk of vaccines being less effective in the face of variants was "the major concern" that could still lead to a "very major third wave in the autumn", a senior scientific adviser has said.

Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, who advises the Government, said it was "essential we roll out booster doses, which can protect against that, as soon as we've basically finished vaccinating the adult population, which should finish by the summer."

He told Radio 4's Today programme it was "much better to be vaccinating people than shutting down the whole of society", adding he was "feeling fairly optimistic that we will be not completely back to normal, but something which feels a lot more normal by the summer".

07:40 AM

India deal is 'tip of an iceberg', says Liz Truss

Liz Truss has said the 6,000 UK jobs created through a preliminary trade deal with India are the "tip of an iceberg".

The jobs, which come as part of an enhanced trade partnership that includes £533 million of new Indian investment into Britain, focused on the health and technology sectors, will come into force "over the next year or so", the International Trade Secretary said.

She told Radio 4's Today programme: "That's very different to a free trade deal which is what we are commencing this autumn, which is all about lowering trade barriers, gaining more agreements in areas like digital and data. This 6,00 jobs today is just the tip of an iceberg

"We are going much wider and deeper over time."

The UK is hoping to double bilateral trade with India over the next decade through the removal of trade barriers.

07:26 AM

Brexit did not boost UK vaccine programme, Sir Keir Starmer claims

Sir Keir Starmer has claimed the success of the UK's vaccine rollout is "really tribute to the frontline NHS" as he argued that Brexit did not hand ministers the advantage.

The Government is reaping the benefit of the so-called vaccine bounce in the polls, with the UK well ahead of its European counterparts thanks to having gone in alone rather than join the EU-wide procurement scheme.

But the pro-Remain Labour leader insisted this was not the case, noting that "the programme of purchasing was during the transition period, so I don't think that argument takes us very far".

He added: "Of course we would have set up a taskforce, of course we would have got on top of it - everybody knows vaccine is light at the end of the tunnel."

07:18 AM

Labour is not losing Hartlepool because of Brexit, Sir Keir Starmer suggests

Sir Kier Starmer and Dr Paul Williams, Labour Party candidate for Hartlepool, on the campaign trail - Getty
Sir Kier Starmer and Dr Paul Williams, Labour Party candidate for Hartlepool, on the campaign trail - Getty

Sir Keir Starmer has rejected the suggestion that Labour is on course to lose Hartlepool because of Brexit.

Labour had hoped that NHS frontline worker Dr Williams would win over the Leave-voting constituency, but it appears that he is struggling to shake off his tag as a one-time Remain backer.

Asked about this, the Labour leader said: "In Hartlepool the issue that comes up over and over again is jobs... what is needed more than anything is a powerful voice for Hartlepool.

"That is what Dr Paul Williams will be, and that is what matters above all else."

He also insisted the party had been an effective, but "constructive", opposition during the pandemic.

07:16 AM

Sir Keir Starmer: I will take full responsibility for election results

Starmer admitted Labour was fighting an uphill battle in Hartlepool - Getty
Starmer admitted Labour was fighting an uphill battle in Hartlepool - Getty

Sir Keir Starmer has said he takes "full responsibility for the results" on Thursday's series of elections and the key race in Hartlepool.

The Labour leader told Radio 4's Today programme: "I hope we won't lose Hartlepool", but admitted they are facing an uphill fight.

"I take full responsibility for the results, just as I take full responsibility for everything that happens in the Labour party under my leadership," he said.

"I know every vote has to be earned. My job as Labour leader was to rebuild the party out of that devastating loss in 2019 and put us in position to win the next general election," he added.

"I said on the day I was elected that was a mountain to climb, it is and we are climbing it... I don't think anybody realistically thought it was possible to turn the Labour party around... to a position where we could win the next general election within a year."

07:11 AM

Sir Keir Starmer begins damage limitation as Hartlepool loss looms

Sir Keir Starmer is in full damage limitation mode, after a new poll suggested Labour would lose its Hartlepool seat at this week's by-election.

It's a critical race - on one hand, it is the first test of his work a year into being Labour leader. But equally it is a test of whether Boris Johnson's Red Wall victory in 2019 was a fluke or a genuine breakthrough.

The Survation poll giving Tory candidate Jill Mortimer a 17 per cent lead suggests the latter.

Asked about the findings this morning, Sir Keir told Sky News: "There is no getting away from the fact that we lost the last general election in 2019 very badly - the worst lost since 1935.

"My job is to rebuild the party, reconnect with the public, rebuild that trust but that will take time."

Thursday's vote was "the first opportunity to take a step towards that" but it "will take time", he added.

07:05 AM

Minister refuses to say if Boris Johnson should resign over potential ministerial code breach

Liz Truss refused to "answer hypotheticals about what might happen at some future date" - Reuters
Liz Truss refused to "answer hypotheticals about what might happen at some future date" - Reuters

A Cabinet minister has refused to comment on whether Boris Johnson should resign if he is found to have broken the ministerial code over the so-called "cash for cushions" row.

Pressed on the Downing Street flat renovations, Liz Truss told Sky News: "Well the Prime Minister is very clear that he's covered the cost of these refurbishments, that he's been working with officials, that he's declared in line with the appropriate rules, but I'm not going to answer hypotheticals about what might happen at some future date. What the Prime Minister has made clear is he has covered the cost.

"I think the British public understand that, they want us to get on with the job which is delivering the vaccine programme and making sure we recover our economy after Covid, and that we have the jobs and growth we need across the UK," the International Trade Secretary said.

Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross said on Sunday that Mr Johnson should "of course" quit if he is found to have breached the ministerial code.

07:03 AM

No green light on the green list - but here's what is being planned

British holidaymakers are expected to be freed to travel to Europe's top holiday destinations next month after Brussels opened the door to vaccinated travellers from the start of June.

Spain, Greece and France are among countries that could be added to the safe "green list" by the end of June under the traffic light system being drawn up by Downing Street for international travel, The Telegraph can disclose.

Liz Truss, the International Trade Secretary, gave nothing away during her interview with Sky News this morning, saying people "will have to wait a bit longer, I'm afraid"

"I fully understand it has been a very tough year for people... people are looking to book a holiday but i would encourage people to wait until we can make that announcement."

However you can get a taste of what is to come in our exclusive story here.

07:00 AM

UK to send further oxygen supplies to India this week, minister says

The UK will send further oxygen supplies to India this week - but there is no sign of any help on vaccines.

Liz Truss told Sky News it was "a heart-breaking situation in India and my heart goes out to the people of India and the severe problems they're facing".

The International Trade Secretary added: "The UK has already sent 600 pieces of equipment out, we're sending oxygen out and we've got another shipment going out this week as well, and we're working very, very closely with partners across the world to make sure India has the supplies it needs.

"And of course India was of huge help to the UK last year, making sure we had the paracetamol we need, they're a close ally of the UK and we... really are working hard to make sure that we can help as much as possible."

Challenged over the lack of support on vaccine supplies, she said: "The immediate issue is oxygen - that is our focus, that is the product we are getting out as quickly as possible."

06:52 AM

Exclusive: Tory staff furious over flat refurb amid pay freeze

Tory officials have not had pay increase since Boris Johnson swept to victory in 2019 - Getty
Tory officials have not had pay increase since Boris Johnson swept to victory in 2019 - Getty

Conservative Party staff are in uproar over the costly revamp of Boris Johnson's Downing Street flat after officials were told there was no money for pay rises.

Party officials were "furious" to discover that almost £60,000 from Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) funds was channelled to pay an invoice for the flat refurbishment while at the same time staff were informed their pay was being frozen.

Officials at CCHQ and at regional offices have not had a pay rise since Boris Johnson swept to victory in 2019. The Telegraph understands that in February, Aimee Henderson, the Conservative Party's finance director, told employees the party was in no position to "splash the cash".

Ms Henderson said a pay rise even linked to inflation inflation would not be possible this year.

Read the full story here.

06:50 AM

Britain and India ‘fire starting gun’ on post-Brexit trade deal

Britain and India have “fired the starting gun” on a full trade agreement, with the announcement on Tuesday of a preliminary deal worth £1 billion.

Boris Johnson and Indian premier Narendra Modi have secured fresh cooperation and investments that will help create 6,500 jobs in the UK.

The two prime ministers will host a virtual meeting Tuesday afternoon, following the cancellation of Mr Johnson’s trip to New Delhi last month amid soaring Covid cases. Trade, health, climate change and defence are set to be discussed.

They will unveil an enhanced trade partnership that includes £533 million of new Indian investment into Britain, focused on the health and technology sectors. More than a third of the cash will support low carbon growth, underscoring Mr Johnson’s green industrial agenda.