Sunak tries to pack a punch at conference
BY GEORGE SOMPER
The Party Conference. An infamous yearly event that can often spell out a leader’s future. A moment of unity, a moment of definition, and a moment for the party leader to cement their message to all their party faithfuls.
No doubt in the back of Rishi Sunak’s mind he’s trying to avoid a conference disaster, and trust me, there have been a few. Theresa May losing her voice and being handed a fake P45 by a prankster mid-speech back in 2017; Liz Truss being bombarded by Greenpeace activists, and 1983: Neil Kinnock gracefully falling into the sea on Brighton Beach. As I write, no such disaster has befallen Rishi Sunak, but it may happen yet. These events seemed to reflect the dire future of each victim, Theresa May failed to pass her Brexit Bill through parliament and was forced to resign, Kinnock fought and lost two elections, often falling prey to the media, and Liz Truss? Well. We all know what happened to her.
The Conservatives currently sit at 27% on Politico’s Approval Rating Poll. It’s looking pretty bleak, disaster or no disaster. However, Sunak is trying hard to pack a punch, and who’s to say it isn’t working. Overnight Labour’s lead dropped to 10 points, the lowest in a year. This comes in the wake of Sunak’s announcement to water down Britain’s commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050. He reassured the press that the target would still be met but that the government had to “ease the burden on working families”. Sunak also announced the phasing out of gas boilers and the deadline for selling petrol and diesel cars would be delayed. This U-turn marks a new and radical line of policy specifically designed to draw a line between the Tories and Labour and it is sure to feature during conference, with the Home Secretary stating our current commitment to Net-Zero (which is legally binding) is “bankrupting the British people” and Secretary of State for Business and Trade Kemi Badenoch reminding us that “we are only 1% of world emissions”.
Despite their very recent boost in the polls, Sunak’s government has come under fire from all sides after a leak suggested Sunak had plans to scale back HS2. If true, this decision will be born out of the same reasoning for the Net-Zero U-turn, yet so far it has a had very different effect. Likely plans to cut HS2 routes from Manchester to Birmingham, as well as ending the line at Old Oak Common instead of Euston Station in North London, have resulted in three ex-prime ministers criticising the suspected policy. Theresa May hit out at Sunak saying, “we have to think about why HS2 was designed in the first place”.
Admittedly, the fact that the Tory Party Conference is in Manchester does not help, as qualms are sure to be voiced in the Northern Powerhouse. Sunak will hope that the government’s recent pledge to invest £1bn into 55 towns across the UK will help quell some of the anger over HS2, as £20m will go to each town over a ten-year period, enabling them to re-invigorate themselves and tackle anti-social behaviour. Wrexham, Grimsby, and Dudley are some of the names that would receive the funding, all of which voted Conservative in 2019 as Labour saw their ‘red wall’ collapse. No doubt he’s hoping this punch will land at conference.
HS2 isn’t the only thing Sunak is battling his party over though, with Michael Gove calling for tax cuts before the election. This may come as a blow to Sunak as the comment was made only a day before the party conference was due to take place. Both Sunak and The Chancellor Jeremy Hunt have refused to commit to cuts, with both men appointed off the back of Liz Truss’s calamitous 45-day tenure, where the country witnessed a crash in the pound caused by the very thing Gove and Hunt are butting horns over. The Prime Minister will be keen to bolster his theme of economic prudence and stability in Manchester, so rest assured Gove’s comments will garner unwanted attention.
The summer reshuffle and Sunak’s recent U-turns may serve to bolster both the PM’s position within his party and his party’s chances of running a solid election campaign. However, when Sunak walks towards the centre stage of the convention complex, carried on by a blue wave of applause, he may wonder which of those lurking in the crowd seek to undermine him.
When he attempts to defend his latest radical U-turn he may feel an anxious itch that all hell will break loose, or that an environmental activist will lurch out from across the room and accuse him and his government of abandoning humanity for party politics and electioneering. What will he say to reassure them? He may talk of economic prudence. He may talk of the cost of a Labour government on families. He may say Labour would reinstate the Net-Zero targets which he would claim would pile on the cost for consumers. He may grab hold of the Party Conference by the scuff of the neck, but the question I ask is, will his warnings make a difference come election time. This remains to be seen.
Image: Flickr Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Cabinet meeting