Sunak takes the fight to Starmer
Simon Danczuk, businessman, author and former MP, looks at Rishi Sunak’s bold moves and what the Conservative conference revealed.
Conservative conference was all about who’d replace Rishi Sunak after they’d lost the next election, then the PM spoke on Wednesday and all that changed.
Sunak isn’t the best political orator, but he’d prepared well and there were similarities with Tony Blair’s style and tone of delivery.
He invoked the importance of family, community and enterprise, emphasising his parents had been small business owners. Key policy proposals included phasing out the legal right to smoke, radically revising A-levels and post-16 education, more incentives for teachers, and reiterating his intention to implement both the Rwandan immigration plan and revise the net zero targets.
Most sensationally, Sunak confirmed axing the Birmingham to Manchester leg of HS2. Even though fewer of us travel for meetings, and post-pandemic rely more heavily on Zoom and Teams calls, the reality is capacity will become an issue, especially as we try to move more haulage off the roads and onto rail.
However, HS2 costs have spiralled out of control, and we are throwing good money after bad. Those managing and overseeing HS2 should be ashamed of themselves, the fact the UK can’t organise a major infrastructure project, knowing our history, is a national scandal.
Gordon Brown, David Cameron, and Boris Johnson all coming out against Sunak’s decision is rich, considering they are culpable for overseeing the financial failure of the project.
Former Prime Ministers being critical of the current PM on HS2 has given Sunak a political advantage – it’s distinguished him from those who have gone before. Axing HS2 suggests Sunak’s not one of the usual politicians, and he’s prepared to make the tough decisions.
Differentiation in politics is now extremely attractive. Sunak’s HS2 decision brings Starmer into the fight. The Labour leader has been enjoying sitting on the fence, but he now has to decide whether he’s going to commit £37bn to an exceptionally expensive railway.
It’s all part of Sunak’s strategy. There will also now be votes in Parliament over the 2030 climate change targets, is Starmer going to back his colleague Ed Miliband or the public who think they’re unrealistic?
Starmer’s Labour have already voted against the Rwandan immigration strategy, when the plan eventually starts working, which it surely will, what will he do?
Slowly but surely, Sunak is painting Starmer into a corner and the Labour leader may only just be realising it.
Simon Danczuk is a businessman, author and former MP who represented the constituency of Rochdale between 2010 and 2017. He has co-written two books, Smile for the Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith and Scandal at Dolphin Square.