Tories deny party rift as reports suggest Labour closing gap

Reports suggest that the Labour Party are closing the gap between them and the Tories. Picture: Jeff Overs/BBC via Getty Images
Reports suggest that the Labour Party are closing the gap between them and the Tories. Picture: Jeff Overs/BBC via Getty Images
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The Tories have dismissed reports of a rift in Theresa May’s inner circle as “tittle-tattle” as the party struggles to seize back the initiative after a week of polls suggesting Labour is closing the gap.

Theresa May will try to bring the focus of the campaign back to Brexit when she faces Jeremy Paxman in a live TV interview tonight.

The Prime Minister will also take questions from a studio audience in the joint broadcast on Sky News and Channel 4. Jeremy Corbyn will also be interviewed on the same programme, separately from Mrs May.

Yesterday Home Secretary Amber Rudd admitted the Tories were “not sure” what the cap on social care costs will be in the latest blow to controversial social care reforms laid out in the party’s manifesto.

Labour’s poll ratings have surged since the measure was announced and was swiftly branded a “dementia tax” by critics. Four days later, the government was forced into a U-turn on the imposition of a costs cap.

READ MORE: Poll showing Theresa May’s lead slipping will ‘focus minds’

The Conservative lead has shrunk from as much as 24 points last month to as little as five in surveys conducted last week, following the manifesto and the Manchester bombing.

An ORB poll for the Sunday Telegraph had Tories down two points in the past week on 44 per cent, six points ahead of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour on 38 per cent, up four points and equal to Labour’s best rating since Mr Corbyn became leader.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson dismissed the narrowing in the polls as something that “always happens” in elections.

“People at home will be thinking actually in two weeks time Jeremy Corbyn could be in charge of the country, Diane Abbott could be the home secretary charged with keeping us safe, John McDonnell might be in charge of your pay packet.”

She added: “Theresa May is Prime Minister, I hope she continues as Prime Minister, in three weeks’ time the first day of negotiations for Brexit are going to happen and we will either be led by Theresa May of Jeremy Corbyn.

“And I absolutely, seven days a week, twice on a Sunday, think Theresa May is the best person in that job.

Ms Davidson added: “I honestly don’t know what Jeremy Corbyn’s policies for Brexit are, I’ve never heard him stand up in a speech and read them out, I’ve never heard him say what he wants to pursue.

“He could be prime minister in two weeks time and I don’t know what he would do on Brexit and neither does the country.”

Reports suggest the Conservative campaign will be relaunched this week after being pushed off course by the manifesto U-turn and the pause in electioneering following the Manchester bombing.

The Sunday Times claimed Mrs May’s joint chiefs of staff Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy were at loggerheads over the original social care plan, which would have seen people facing uncapped costs until they were down to their last £100,000 of assets, including the value of their home.

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon dismissed the reports as “Westminster tittle- tattle”, but did not offer a clear denial. It was reported that Ms Hill and Tory campaign strategist Sir Lynton Crosby, opposed the manifesto plan overseen by Mr Timothy.

READ MORE: Theresa May’s Brexit dinner leak: what does it tell us?

In a further attempt to move on from the social care row, the party highlighted plans for a new Commission for Countering Extremism to clamp down on “unacceptable cultural norms” such as female genital mutilation. It will also act to ensure women’s rights are upheld in all of Britain’s ethnic and religious communities, Mrs May has said.

A Conservative government would give the commission teeth by making it a statutory body with a legal responsibility to identify extremism and support people and organisations in resisting it, she said.

Modelled on the Commission for Racial Equality, it will aim to root extremism out of British society in the same way racism was tackled from the 1970s onwards.

Mrs May said: “There is clearly a role for government in tackling extremism where it involves behaviour that is or ought to be criminal.

“But there is also a role for government to help people and build up organisations in society to promote and defend Britain’s pluralistic values, and stand up to the extremists who want to undermine our values and impose their twisted beliefs on to the rest of us.

“Enough is enough. We need to be stronger.”