- British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday unveiled a raft of new policies aimed at shoring up dwindling support for the Conservative Party ahead of next year’s general election.
- Included is the expected and controversial decision to cancel the northern leg of the planned HS2 high-speed rail network.
- “The right thing to do when facts change is to have the courage to change direction,” Sunak said, in his keynote speech at the conclusion of the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, England.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak used his keynote speech at the conclusion of the conference to reassert his authority and outline a number of new policies.
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MANCHESTER, England — British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday unveiled a raft of new policies aimed at rallying dwindling support for the Conservative Party ahead of next year’s general election.
Included in these measures was the expected but controversial decision to cancel the northern leg of the planned HS2 high-speed rail network aimed at linking industry across the country.
Sunak used the decision to position himself as the candidate for change, saying it would “fundamentally change the country.”
Delivering his keynote speech at the conference, he said: “HS2 is the ultimate example of the old consensus: the result of a project whose costs have more than doubled, and whose economic case has weakened dramatically with changes to post-Covid travel.” The conclusion of the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, England.
“The facts have changed. The right thing to do when the facts change is to have the courage to change direction,” he said.
Other steps to eliminate smoking, reduce illegal immigration and reform the education system were also announced.
Sunak confirmed speculation that the government would cancel the HS2 high-speed train route between Birmingham and Manchester amid rising costs, saying money from the project – around £36bn – would be reinvested in other regional transport lines.
HS2 was given a budget of 55.7 billion pounds sterling in 2015, but costs have ballooned since then, reaching an estimated £98bn in 2020. Since then, rising inflation has pushed up costs.
“For the first time in the life of this project, we will reduce costs,” Sunak said. “There is nothing ambitious about just pouring more and more money into the same project.”
“For too long, Westminster has invested in the projects they want, not in the projects the rest of the country wants and needs,” he added, revealing plans for alternative transport investment in the “Northern Network” of local lines.
Critics on both sides of the political spectrum accused the prime minister of stifling the country’s long-term prospects in favor of short-term political gain.
Andy Street, the mayor of the West Midlands, who played a pivotal role in strengthening the Conservative position in the region, said that Sunak was… “Cancel the future” He reportedly considered resigning over the decision.
Andy Burnham, the Labor mayor of Greater Manchester, told the BBC that Sunak was treating the north like a “second-class citizen”. The section of road from London to Birmingham is already being built.
The move also represents a blow to investors with exposure to the infrastructure project, including construction company Kier Group, which last month bought a company that holds the HS2 and other rail contracts.
Elsewhere, Sunak announced a plan to raise the smoking age by one year every year, while also restricting the availability of e-cigarettes for children.
“As Conservatives, measures that restrict choice are never easy,” he said, while insisting the move would reduce the biggest cause of preventable death.
The plans, if passed, are likely to impact sales of cigarette companies, including Japan Tobacco and Imperial Brands, both of which see the UK as a key market.
Sunak also revealed a major overhaul of A-levels and T-levels, taken by students aged 16 to 19, under the so-called British Advanced Standard. These moves will increase the number of hours students spend in classrooms and increase the number of subjects they study to include English and compulsory mathematics.
Sunak described education reform as essential to reducing inequality and improving livelihoods, calling it “the best economic policy, the best social policy and the best moral policy.”
These measures come at a time when the ruling Conservative Party, which has ruled the country for 13 years, trails the opposition Labor Party by 20 points in opinion polls, raising the risk of a possible painful defeat in next year’s general elections.
Sunak intended to use the conference to boost support among party members and voters generally ahead of next year’s general election, and unveiled his new campaign slogan: “Long-term decisions for a brighter future.”
In fact, in his speech, he tried to present himself as a candidate for change, saying: “Politics is not working the way it should,” adding, “I will lead in a different way.”
However, the event was dominated by growing discord between extremist factions within the Conservative Party, dealing a major blow to his leadership.
Meanwhile, opinion polls suggest the public believes Sunak is failing to achieve his goals Five main priorities: Reducing inflation by half; economic development; lower public debt; Reducing NHS waiting lists; Preventing small migrant boats from reaching the country.
According to IPSOS vote Released on Wednesday, nearly three-quarters (71%) believe Sunak is doing a poor job of reducing NHS waiting lists, while nearly two-thirds (63%) believe he has failed to ease the cost of living amid rising inflation.
“You either believe this country needs change or you don’t,” Sunak said, in an apparent reference to current public sentiment.
He added, “If you do this, you must stand with me and everyone in this room. You must stand with the Conservatives. It is time for change, and that is what it is.”
“Lifelong food lover. Avid beeraholic. Zombie fanatic. Passionate travel practitioner.”