'Scandalous': Rishi Sunak faces huge backlash after boasts of diverting cash from 'deprived urban areas'

Watch: Rishi Sunak boasts about taking money from 'deprived urban areas' to help wealthy towns

Tory leadership contender Rishi Sunak is facing a huge backlash after he boasted of diverting funding from “deprived urban areas” towards more prosperous towns.

Labour and Conservative MPs alike condemned Sunak over the “scandalous” comments made to party members in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, last week.

Labour frontbencher Lisa Nandy, the shadow communities secretary, said Sunak was attempting to “bribe” the Tory members - who are typically more prosperous than the wider public - who are deciding the next prime minister.

“Talk about showing your true colours,” she said of the ex-chancellor.

Rishi Sunak, candidate to become Britain's next prime minister and Conservative party leader, attends a campaign event in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, on July 29, 2022. - The Conservative leadership election result will be announced on September 5. (Photo by PETER NICHOLLS / POOL / AFP) (Photo by PETER NICHOLLS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak at the campaign event in Tunbridge Wells last week where he made the remarks about diverting funding from 'deprived urban areas'. (AFP via Getty Images)

Government minister Lord (Zac) Goldsmith, meanwhile, said of Sunak’s remarks: “This is one of the weirdest - and dumbest - things I’ve ever heard from a politician.”

The New Statesman magazine obtained footage of Sunak saying: “I managed to start changing the funding formulas, to make sure areas like this are getting the funding they deserve because we inherited a bunch of formulas from Labour that shoved all the funding into deprived urban areas and that needed to be undone.

“I started the work of undoing that.”

The Sunak campaign has fought back, arguing the government’s “levelling up” agenda “isn’t just about city centres, it’s also about towns and rural areas all over the country that need help too.

BEXHILL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 05: Conservative Leadership Hopeful Rishi Sunak attends a Conservative Party leadership campaign event ahead of a hustings event later on August 5, 2022 in Bexhill, England. Rishi Sunak And Liz Truss are vying to become the Conservative Party Leader and the UK's next Prime Minister. (Photo by Peter Nicholls - Pool/Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak attends a campaign event in Bexhill on Friday. (Getty Images)

“Travelling around the country, he’s seen non-metropolitan areas that need better bus services, faster broadband or high quality schools. That’s what he’ll deliver as prime minister.”

But Jake Berry, chairman of the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs - and a supporter of Sunak’s leadership rival Liz Truss - said he “says one thing and does another, from putting up taxes to trying to block funding for our armed forces - and now levelling up”.

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Labour’s Brent Central MP Dawn Butler labelled Sunak “disgraceful”, while deputy leader Angela Rayner remarked: “And then Rishi Sunak wonders why he hasn’t got any working class friends.”

This is a reference to a clip of a young Sunak which went viral on social media earlier in the campaign. The footage, said to be taken from a BBC documentary Middle Classes: Their Rise & Sprawl from 2001, sees Sunak correct himself when he says he has working class friends.

Watch: Resurfaced documentary clip captures Rishi Sunak suggesting he doesn't have 'working class' friends

“I have friends who are aristocrats, I have friends who are upper class, I have friends who are working class… well, not working class.”

Nandy, meanwhile, has written to communities secretary Greg Clark - who is the MP for Tunbridge Wells and attended last week's campaign event with Sunak - urging him to investigate the comments and the changes to funding formulas.

Sunak is currently trailing Truss in the contest, with YouGov polling this week suggesting 69% of Tory members intend to vote for Truss.