Rishi Sunak to vow to end 'status quo' politics in conference speech
3rd October 2023

Rishi Sunak to vow to end 30 years of failed ‘status quo’ politics in his Tory conference speech as he scraps the northern leg of HS2

  • Prime Minister is set to make the most important speech of his premiership

Rishi Sunak will today vow to end 30 years of failed ‘status quo’ politics – as he takes the axe to HS2 and unveils billions for new transport projects in the North.

The Prime Minister will use the most important speech of his premiership to paint himself as an agent of change who is willing to make tough decisions in the country’s long-term interests.

He will acknowledge that Westminster politics is ‘broken’ and declare a mission to ‘fundamentally change our country’.

And he will accuse Sir Keir Starmer of a cynical attempt to win the election by default.

The run-up to today’s speech has been overshadowed by a furious row over the future of the troubled HS2 rail line.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will use the most important speech of his premiership to paint himself as an agent of change

Mr Sunak will convene an emergency meeting of the Cabinet this morning to rubber stamp proposals that will scrap the northern leg from Birmingham to Manchester.

The PM yesterday said the bill for the project – now estimated at more than £100billion – was ‘far beyond what anyone thought’ when it began.

Today he will unveil detailed plans to plough the billions of pounds saved into improving transport infrastructure in the North and Midlands.

This will include a renewed commitment to the Northern Powerhouse Rail project which aims to revolutionise east-west services stretching from Hull to Liverpool via Leeds and Manchester.

The proposal to axe the northern leg of HS2 has triggered a massive backlash from business, Labour and senior Tories, including Boris Johnson and West Midlands mayor Andy Street.

Mr Sunak will argue that HS2 is the product of a failed consensus – and insist that ‘levelling up’ projects in the North will be delivered more quickly and effectively without it.

READ MORE:  BOB SEELY MP: There remains a powerful case for a major national rail project – just not the mega turkey that is HS2

In his keynote speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester today, the PM will say that Britain has suffered from a failed political consensus since Margaret Thatcher left Downing Street 30 years ago, with a system that is ‘too focused on short-term advantage, not long-term success’, and politicians who spend ‘more time campaigning for change than actually delivering it.’

‘There is the undeniable sense that politics just doesn’t work the way it should,’ he will say.

‘A feeling that Westminster is a broken system – and the same goes for Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont. It isn’t anger, it is an exhaustion with politics. In particular, politicians saying things, and then nothing ever changing.

‘And you know what: people are right. 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.’

In a highly political speech, the PM will also hit out at Sir Keir’s effort to protect his poll lead by refusing to set out what Labour would do in government.

‘The Labour Party have set out their stall: to do and say as little as possible and hope no one notices,’ he will say.

‘They want to take people’s votes for granted and keep doing politics the same old way.

‘It is a bet on people’s apathy. It is about power for the sake of power. It is, in short, everything that is wrong with our politics.’

The run-up to today’s speech has been overshadowed by a furious row over the future of the troubled HS2 rail line

HS2’s original £30billion budget has ballooned to £71billion and insiders believe it is on course to top £100billion following the latest bout of inflation, despite a 2021 decision to scrap the eastern leg to Leeds. Ministers believe that truncating the project further could save £35billion and release cash for other projects. Writing in the Daily Mail last week, Boris Johnson spoke of his ‘suppressed fury’ at his successor’s decision to throw the future of the flagship project into doubt.

He said terminating the line at Birmingham would be a ‘betrayal of the North’. Speaking yesterday, Mr Sunak said it was ‘clear that the costs of this programme have escalated far beyond what anyone thought at the beginning’. He added: ‘The sums involved are enormous and it’s right that the Prime Minister takes proper care over it.’

The issue once again dominated the third day of the Conservative Party conference, with MPs divided over whether the PM is doing the right thing.

Senior Conservative MP Damian Green, chairman of the One Nation Group of MPs, said HS2 should be built in full because it will be ‘a huge engine of growth’. And critics argue that abandoning the Manchester leg will throw plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) into disarray.

Pictured: The HS2 construction site at Curzon Street in Birmingham city centre on Tuesday

The plans included building infrastructure for NPR, also known as HS3, which is set to run east-west via Manchester. Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said scrapping the HS2 extension to Manchester ‘rips the heart’ out of NPR and would ‘leave the north of England with Victorian infrastructure, probably for the rest of this century’.

But deputy party chairman Lee Anderson said scrapping the northern spur was the right thing to do, adding: ‘HS2’s a gamble and a bad gambler will always keep throwing money at something.’ 

Speaking at a conference fringe event, the MP for Ashfield said: ‘What’s the point in having a high-speed railway coming through the north of the country or Ashfield or wherever, when I’ve got pensioners in my villages that can’t get a bus from one village to the other, two miles away to get to a doctor’s appointment? We need to get our buses sorted and our regional connectivity sorted.’

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