In his inaugural address at the Conservative conference as prime minister, Rishi Sunak exhibited authority over the anticipated HS2 project termination. Following weeks of ambiguities and assertations that a final decision had not yet been reached, Mr. Sunak confirmed suspicions by announcing the cull of the HS2 project’s northern section.
The termination of Europe’s largest infrastructure project represents a significant move, one that the prime minister pledged to leverage beneficially. All unutilized funds earmarked for the project would be redirected towards enhancing local transport services, including trams, buses, railways, and numerous roadways.
While the specifics of these changes and how they will be implemented still remain unresolved, the spotlight is now on the opposition. Would the Labour party counter by promising to overturn the HS2 delineation, thereby putting local transportation initiatives in limbo?
Mr. Sunak’s rhetoric also posed him as the rightful successor to Thatcher’s line of leadership. With his bold statement decrying the political leanings of the past 30 years, the Prime Minister portrayed traditional decision-making processes as vested, unproductive and self-serving. His attempt to contrast himself from his recent party leaders, save for Thatcher, Disraeli, Churchill, and Iain Duncan Smith, was quite noticeable.
Change, education and healthcare reform emerged as key agenda points in his address. In the quest to remold the nation, Mr. Sunak outlined novel policies aimed at bolstering the prospects of 16 to 19-year-olds, including merging A-levels and T-levels into an Advanced British Standard qualification, a policy directly aligned with traditional Labour positioning. He further promised a cash incentive of £30,000 for educators.
Among his legacy achievements, Mr. Sunak laid out a radical plan to curtail smoking in the younger generation by progressively increasing the minimum age to purchase cigarettes, a policy only New Zealand has attempted.
Furthermore, in a memorable personal touch, Mr. Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murty, appeared on stage. Her previously low-profile presence was warmly received as she opened up about the PM’s background and values in a heartfelt prelude to his address.
The emerging question is whether this strong embracement of change will be enough to propel Sunak as the “change candidate” in the forthcoming general election, despite the 13 years of Conservative reign.