British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will set out his mission to fundamentally change the country at his Conservative party’s conference on Wednesday, and finally end uncertainty over the future of a high-speed rail project to northern England.
With the delay of the northern section of the rail project known as HS2 almost a certainty, Sunak will try to rally a divided party with a call to action, saying he wants to overturn a political system that prefers the “easy decision, not the right one”.
Trailing the opposition Labour Party in opinion polls before a general election expected next year, Sunak hopes to revive his premiership by saying he is one of the few politicians who is willing to take tough long-term decisions.
Grant Shapps, his defence minister, told Times Radio: “Today we’ll hear a speech from the prime minister where he sets out the sometimes very difficult long-term decisions, we’ve talked about the HS2 thing, for example, and where that money could be spent.”
“Not always popular immediately in the short term, but nonetheless, difficult decisions he makes for the long term for a brighter future.”
As the party’s conference in the northern English city of Manchester draws to an end, his attempt to revitalise his party’s fortunes after a year in power has been largely overshadowed by a row over the future of HS2.
A source close to the project said the announcement would most probably say the train line would go to Euston station in London but the construction of the northern section, which the government has already spent 2.3 billion pounds on, would be mothballed.
Sunak will say the decision – which has taken weeks to announce – shows he is focusing on the long term rather than what he described as the political obsession with short-term opportunism.
“Politics doesn’t work the way it should. We’ve had 30 years of a political system which incentivises the easy decision, not the right one. Thirty years of vested interests standing in the way of change,” he will say, according to excerpts of his speech.
“Our political system is too focused on short-term advantage, not long-term success … Our mission is to fundamentally change our country.”
CHANGING THE NARRATIVE?
His message risks being undermined by the anger felt by business over HS2, which Sunak and his finance minister, Jeremy Hunt, have attacked over its eye-watering costs, which estimates say could hit 100 billion pounds.
If it is scrapped or delayed, business leaders say Sunak should be accused of doing the exact opposite of his speech – being driven by short-term political gain rather than considering the value a new high-speed train line could offer generations to come.
Hoping to change the narrative, Sunak will also take aim at Labour leader Keir Starmer, a taste of what is gearing up to be an ugly election campaign.
“The Labour party have set out their stall: to do and say as little as possible and hope no one notices. They want to take people’s votes for granted and keep doing politics the same old way,” he will say.
“It is about power for the sake of power. It is in short, everything that is wrong with our politics.”