Tories kick off annual conference, eye election turnaround
Rishi Sunak has spent much of his first year in charge trying to stabilise Britain’s crisis
TORIES started its annual conference Sunday (1), bidding to kickstart a resurgence before a general election expected next year that it is currently on track to lose.
The four-day gathering in Manchester, northwest England, will be prime minister Rishi Sunak’s first since he became Tory leader last October, and likely the last before the election.
His party has been in power since 2010 and looks increasingly beleaguered amid widespread economic woes, which first set in under Sunak’s much-maligned predecessors Liz Truss and Boris Johnson.
The main Labour opposition, which starts its yearly conference in Liverpool next Sunday, has opened up double-digit poll leads and is increasingly readying for a return to governing.
Sunak — who must hold an election by January 2025 at the latest — will try to use the conference to rejuvenate his flagging Tories and set out a broader, seemingly more populist, policy agenda.
“This week offers us a chance to set out our values to the British people, to commit ourselves to the cause and prepare for the election next year,” he wrote in a welcome message to attendees.
“The stakes in the general election next year have never been higher,” Sunak said, adding voters will have a choice between “two different ways of doing politics” and vowing to govern “in the long-term interests of the country”.
Party chairman Greg Hands has started proceedings. Recently appointed defence secretary Grant Shapps — just back from a midweek visit to Ukraine — and foreign secretary James Cleverly will also make speeches.
Monday’s (2) headline speakers include finance minister Jeremy Hunt, while Tuesday (3) will see hardline home secretary Suella Braverman deliver a keynote address.
Sunak will close the conference with his speech Wednesday (4) lunchtime.
Meanwhile ministers, Tory big-hitters, activists, commentators and others will feature in various fringe events.
They include ex-prime minister Truss, whose only conference as Tory leader last year was overshadowed by her disastrous mini-budget unveiled less than two weeks earlier.
It rattled financial markets and its impact continues to be felt across the economy, as well as in polling about trust in the Conservatives’ handling of it.
Largely unrepentant, Truss will host a “Great British Growth Rally” Monday, pushing her discredited tax-slashing agenda alongside several other former ministers.
Amid widespread Tory dismay at record post-WWII tax levels, dozens of senior MPs — including Truss — revealed Friday (29) they have signed a pledge not to vote for Hunt’s November mini-budget if it contains any rates increases.
Sunak insisted in a pre-conference BBC interview Sunday that reducing inflation remained the priority, arguing that would be “the best tax cut that I can deliver”.
Another high-profile party figure, ex-leader Johnson, is absent from the published conference agenda. He resigned as a Conservative MP in June before being ousted by lawmakers who had found he deliberately misled them during the “Partygate” scandal.