Race to Be Sunak’s Successor Is Conference Sub-Plot: Tory Latest

Rishi Sunak wants to use his governing Conservative Party’s annual conference in Manchester to set out his agenda ahead of a general election expected next year. The next few days will see a slew of policies aimed at closing the double-digit gap to Keir Starmer’s Labour in opinion polls.

(Bloomberg) — Rishi Sunak wants to use his governing Conservative Party’s annual conference in Manchester to set out his agenda ahead of a general election expected next year. The next few days will see a slew of policies aimed at closing the double-digit gap to Keir Starmer’s Labour in opinion polls.

But on Sunday, the question of what happens to the party if it loses was an obvious subplot. Two Cabinet ministers on the right of the party, Suella Braverman and Kemi Badenoch, are seen as likely challengers. With a crowded field, though, centrists are also looking at their chances. Allies of Science Secretary Michelle Donelan suggested she may be one to watch.

In the meantime, Sunak is under pressure to cut taxes, but during an at times tetchy interview with the BBC, Sunak said his priority remains to get inflation down. He also declined to commit to building the northern leg of the flagship HS2 rail project to Manchester, where the Tory conference is taking place.

Read More: The Tories Auditioning for Sunak’s Job If He Can’t Save His Own

Key Developments, Stories:

  • Senior Tories including Truss, Patel say taxes should come down
  • Badenoch says leaving ECHR should be on the table
  • BAE Systems Wins £4 Billion UK Contract for Nuclear Submarines
  • Unions Protest Against Tory Conference With a Week of Strikes
  • UK Considers Copy of Canada’s Growth Fund to Boost Investment
  • Sunak Says Filling UK Potholes as Pressing as Pricey HS2 Project

(All times UK)

Tories Bet Journalists They’ll Win Election (5 p.m.)

To take the Conservative Party’s temperature on day one in Manchester, journalists keep asking Cabinet ministers to put their money where their mouths are and bet on a Tory election win.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove agreed a £100 ($122) wager with a Sun newspaper journalist that the Tories will upset Labour – which has a double-digit lead in opinion polls – in the UK vote expected next year. Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer agreed the same with the Independent. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told LBC he “would” match it – though didn’t shake on it.

But asked by Times Radio if he’d take the bet, Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen replied: “Not at the moment.” Houchen is a prominent Tory figure in northern England, effectively a figurehead for the party’s recent inroads in areas that traditionally voted Labour — and which Sunak needs to hold.

Tory Centrists Are Also Looking at Leadership (4 p.m.)

The jostling on the right wing of the Conservatives (see 11:40 a.m.) to succeed Rishi Sunak if the party loses the general election next year has prompted some more moderate members of the Cabinet to consider running themselves. Allies of Science Secretary Michelle Donelan suggested she is one to watch in Manchester this week and may make her intentions more clear.

Donelan, who oversaw the UK’s return to the European Union’s Horizon information-sharing program and will be a key player in Sunak’s Artificial Intelligence summit next month, is a keynote speaker on Tuesday.

UK Signs Submarine Contracts Worth £4 Billion (3:20 p.m.)

The UK has signed contracts worth £3.95 billion pounds ($4.82 billion) to “drive forward the development the most powerful attack submarines ever operated by the Royal Navy,” Secretary of Defence Grant Shapps told the Conservatives’ annual conference.

Read More: BAE Systems Wins £4 Billion UK Contract for Nuclear Submarines

“These Hunter-Killer Orca submarines supplements will empower the Royal Navy to maintain our strategic advantage under the sea to compete with emerging navies anywhere in the world as our world becomes more prominent and dangerous,” he said.

Shapps was appealing to a party which frequently prioritizes defense spending higher than the voting public does. He also announced two new deployments of Royal Air Force Typhoon combat aircraft to Poland to support the NATO ally following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and authorized the deployment of a reserve battalion to NATO’s possible peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.

Senior Tories Take Aim at Labour’s Starmer (2:40 p.m.)

It’s Conservative Party conference and it’s typical for keynote speakers to target the opposition Labour Party. But even in that context, the opening speeches on Sunday have been notable for how much of the focus has been on Keir Starmer, whose party has a double-digit lead in the polls.

Chairman Greg Hands accused Starmer of changing his mind “60 times in just three years” and pointed delegates to Starmer flip flops on sale at the Tory conference shop. Northern Ireland Secretary said Starmer, a Remainer, has changed his stance on Brexit.

Starmer has acknowledged recalibrating his positions as the government’s fiscal position deteriorated in recent years, and will have his chance to hit back at his Labour Party’s own conference in Liverpool in a week’s time. He may well point out that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also has form on changing his mind, including watered down the government’s green agenda and refusing to commit to completing the UK’s high-speed HS2 rail link. 

Pressure Builds on Sunak Over ECHR (11:40 a.m.)

In her US speech (see 11:20 a.m.), Home Secretary Suella Braverman also called for the reform of international treaties including the United Nations’ Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights, as she tries to reduce asylum claims in the UK. 

Braverman has long been an advocate of withdrawing from the ECHR unless it changes, after the Strasbourg court that oversees it blocked the UK from beginning deportation flights to Rwanda. That policy is also being challenged in the UK Supreme Court, and if the ruling doesn’t go the government’s way, Tory pressure to withdraw from the convention will be immense.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch — who like Braverman is on the right of the party — said leaving the ECHR is “definitely something that needs to be on the table.” The problem for Sunak is that doing so would likely damage the UK’s international reputation. An immediate issue is that the ECHR is written into the Good Friday Agreement that ended decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland in 1998.

Patel Accuses Braverman of ‘Attention’ Seeking (11:20 a.m.)

In a sign that it’s not only on tax where Tory tensions are running high, former Home Secretary Priti Patel hit out at Suella Braverman’s current performance in the job, saying that her speech last week in the US was “to get attention.”

“Speeches are not substitute for delivery,” Patel told Sky News on Sunday. The intervention comes as the government struggles to deliver on Rishi Sunak’s pledge to stop asylum seekers from arriving in boats from France.

In the speech last week, Braverman said being gay or a woman should not entitle people to asylum, later adding that some people “purport” to be gay to “game the system.” She also said multiculturalism in the UK has failed. The speech angered colleagues in the party, who saw it as an unsubtle pitch to grassroots Tories ahead of a future leadership bid.

Sunak Rejects Suggestion He Lacks Mandate (10:45 a.m.)

Rishi Sunak’s new slogan for the Conservative Party, “Long-Term Decisions for a Brighter Future,” has opened the prime minister up to accusations that he doesn’t have an electoral mandate to — as the prime minister himself put it — change the trajectory of the UK. Critics point to his watering down of the UK’s green agenda and wavering on the HS2 project as evidence he’s moving away from the 2019 manifesto on which the Tories were elected.

“I have a good sense about what the British people’s priorities are,” Sunak told the BBC when asked directly who voted for his agenda. “I’m doing what I believe is right for the long term of our country. I am prepared to change things and I’m going to do things differently.”

The issue is unlikely to go away, especially if he rolls out more policies immediately rather than including them in the next manifesto for the Tories to campaign on. Sunak was the choice of Tory MPs following Liz Truss’s chaotic 49-day administration last year. But he was earlier rejected by fee-paying members of the Conservative Party, who opted for Truss, and the last time British voters had their say was when Boris Johnson was prime minister.

Sunak Again Refuses to Comment on HS2 (9:55 a.m.)

Rishi Sunak’s government has spent days fending off questions about the future of the HS2 high-speed rail link, in particular reports ministers are considering scrapping the northern leg between Birmingham and Manchester. On Sunday, the premier again refused to say if it will go ahead.

“I’m not going to comment on further speculation, but what I can tell you we are doing is absolutely committed to levelling up across this country,” he told the BBC. He also said connections between northern cities and transport within them should be prioritized, another hint that a change to HS2 may be coming.

Questions about HS2 have emerged as Sunak has begun talking about adopting a more pro-motorist agenda, which Transport Secretary Mark Harper is expected to announce in his keynote speech on Monday.

Read More: Sunak Says Filling UK Potholes as Pressing as Pricey HS2 Project

Hunt: Tories Need ‘Credible Answer’ on Tax (9:50 a.m.)

Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt has repeatedly rejected calls from his fellow Conservative MPs for immediate tax cuts, saying the government needs to focus on reducing inflation and boosting growth. Still, in an interview with the Times newspaper on Saturday, he acknowledged that a party that hoped to win the next election would need a “credible answer” to the question of whether taxes would rise forever.

Sunak Says He’s Focused on Inflation (9:30 a.m.)

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, responding to a call from one of his own Cabinet ministers to cut taxes before the general election (see 8:35 a.m.), said he is focused on reducing UK inflation.

“I’m a Conservative, of course I want to cut taxes. The best tax cuts that I can deliver to the British people right now is to halve inflation,” Sunak told the BBC on Sunday. “It’s a tax that impacts the poorest people the most.”

But his refusal to commit to cutting taxes before the vote is likely to worry many members of his party, and heap more pressure on his Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt ahead of his fiscal statement in the autumn. 


Gove Backs Tax Cuts on ‘Work’ (8:35 a.m.)

Veteran Cabinet member and Brexit campaigner Michael Gove added his voice to the chorus of Conservatives calling for tax cuts before the next election. But he said he favored tax cuts on “work,” rather than on inheritance, as been under discussion in Downing Street.

“My own view is that wherever possible, we should cut taxes on work,” Gove, who oversees the government’s efforts to “level up” less prosperous areas, told Sky News. “In other words, we should incentivize people to work harder. We should make sure that they’re better rewarded for the enterprise, the effort, the endeavor that they put in.”

Pressed for specifics, Gove said it was up to the chancellor and the premier to decide tax policy. While he didn’t echo calls of some MPs for immediate relief, he said he “would like to see the tax burden reduced before the next election.”

Tories Call for Tax Cuts Ahead of Election (Earlier)

Tax is a major source of tension in Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party, with many of his Members of Parliament hoping the government will reduce the burden on struggling Britons ahead of the next election. In a conference speech on Monday, former Prime Minister Liz Truss will call for corporation tax cuts and warn that millionaires are leaving the UK. Former Home Secretary Priti Patel has also weighed in as the conference gets underway. 

Tory MPs fear that the rising tax burden will cost them votes, following analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank which found that taxes will have risen by about £3,500 per household since the last general election.

–With assistance from Alex Wickham.

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