The British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, is set to fire the starting gun Wednesday on Britain’s next general election campaign, with a much-anticipated keynote speech closing his ruling Conservatives’ annual conference.
The UK leader faces a daunting challenge; rallying his beleaguered Tories to win the election – due sometime in 2024 – after several years of damaging scandals and deep economic woes.
The party, in power since 2010, has lagged behind the main Labour opposition in polls throughout Sunak’s tenure.
But signs that the gap could be; narrowing have provided a glimmer of hope as the grassroots gathered in Manchester, northwest England, since Sunday.
Sunak, 43 is; slated to speak at 11:45 am (1045 GMT) and is; expected to continue a recent shift into campaign mode, following a flurry of more populist policy announcements and; pivots aimed at drawing dividing lines with Labour.
Ahead of the speech Defence Minister Grant Shapps all but confirmed that the prime minister would announce the scrapping of the northern leg of the HS2 train line, a highly contentious move that has overshadowed the four-day yearly event.
“We have to wait for his actual speech to hear exact confirmation,” Shapps, a former transport minister, told BBC television.
“The balance that has to be made… is whether it makes sense to carry on building that given that the world has changed,” he added.
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Sunak, who has been premier for nearly a year, will likely characterise the decision as fiscally prudent due to spiralling costs, as he tries to portray himself as a leader willing to take tough and sometimes unpopular decisions.
“I do things properly and carefully, responsibly and sensibly… but I’m also willing to do things that are bold, that are different,” Sunak told ITV News on Tuesday.
The UK leader cited his recent softening of the pace of Britain’s net-zero agenda and his plans for new “pro-motorist” policies as examples.
“I have a different approach to politics. I think people have tired of politicians who are… focused on the easy way out, short-term decisions,” he told Sky News in another pre-speech interview.
Sunak faces an uphill task convincing voters to stick with the Tories after 13 years and damaging periods of turmoil under his immediate predecessors, Liz Truss and Boris Johnson.