Tory Latest: Transport Chief Says His Party Is ‘Proudly Pro-Car’

Transport Secretary Mark Harper set out what he called a “proudly pro-car” agenda as the Conservative Party gears up for the next general election, including curbing local authorities’ ability to fine motorists and even tapping into conspiracy theories around so-called 15-minute cities.

(Bloomberg) — Transport Secretary Mark Harper set out what he called a “proudly pro-car” agenda as the Conservative Party gears up for the next general election, including curbing local authorities’ ability to fine motorists and even tapping into conspiracy theories around so-called 15-minute cities.

Rishi Sunak’s party is trying to draw dividing lines with the poll-leading opposition Labour Party at its annual conference in Manchester. Roads and motorists are a common theme, running through Sunak’s decision to water down the government’s green agenda and its wavering over building the UK’s flagship HS2 high-speed rail project to its planned terminus in Manchester.

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

Earlier, Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt told Bloomberg TV the UK has no fiscal headroom for tax cuts and that reducing the burden on Britons now would be inflationary. He is the headline speaker on Monday afternoon.

Key Developments, Stories:

  • Hunt vows to raise national living wage to at least £11/hour
  • Stride to promise crackdown on child support payments
  • Donelan says UK should lead on AI safety
  • Shapps says West should stick together on Ukraine
  • Coutinho defends Sunak’s U-turn on green agenda
  • Burnham urges Tories to build HS2 to Manchester
  • Hundreds queue to hear ex-PM Truss’s speech
  • Sunak Faces Cabinet Split on Taking UK Out of Human Rights Pact
  • After a Year as PM, We Get the ‘Real Rishi’: Adrian Wooldridge

(All times UK)

Liz Truss Still Major Draw for True-Blue Tories (1 p.m.)

Former Prime Minister Liz Truss’s speech on the sidelines of the Conservative Party conference was standing-room only as she urged the government to cut corporation tax to stimulate growth. In better news for Rishi Sunak, she did welcome his decision to water down the government’s green agenda.

“We have made some progress, we’ve delayed the ban on boilers, we’ve delayed the ban on cars but we need to do more,” she said. “I’m calling on the chancellor at the autumn statement to put corporation tax back down to 19%.”

Sunak will likely be less thrilled about the loud cheering in the audience — which included former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage — when the event moderator said that unlike the prime minister, Truss had a mandate from grassroots Tory party members. Sunak was the choice of Tory MPs to replace Truss last year, but feepaying activists were not given a say. (Kitty Donaldson)

Manchester Mayor Urges Tories Not to Scrap HS2 (1 p.m.)

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, a Labour politician, warned the Conservatives not to “pull the plug” on northern England, after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak repeatedly refused to deny reports that he’ll scale back or delay the HS2 high speed rail link.

In the run-up to conference, the ruling Conservatives acknowledged they’re reviewing the spiraling costs of the project which aims to link London to Manchester via Birmingham. Sunak has refused to deny reports he may scrap the Birmingham-to-Manchester leg. Burnham on Monday told Bloomberg Radio he’s asked ministers for a meeting on HS2, but had so far been denied one.

Burnham said his message is: “Do not scrap it, do not pull the plug on the north of England, it feels cynical, to me, it feels as though they’re building to a decision that they’ve already pretty much made.” (Alex Morales)

Long Queue to See 49-Day Ex-PM Truss (12:10 p.m.)

Hundreds of people were queuing to see former Prime Minister Liz Truss’s speech on the sidelines of the Conservative Party conference — the largest attendance for a so-called fringe event. 

She is expected to call for lower taxes including on corporations, a theme which featured prominently in her disastrous seven-week premiership last year. Former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage is also in attendance. (Kitty Donaldson)

Harper Says Tories Are ‘Pro-Car’ (11:40 a.m.)

Transport Secretary Mark Harper delivered one of the more eye-raising speeches of the Conservative conference so far. Setting out what he called a “pro-car” agenda, he also said the government would be boosting bus services and cracking down on local councils’ ability to fine motorists.

“For most people, the most important mode of transport remains the car, the van, the lorry, the motorbike,” Harper said.

Harper also referred to so-called 15-minute cities, a method of urban design that seeks to keep services in walking distance, but warning they could be used to limit transport choices. “We stand for freedom to travel how we want,” he said. “What is sinister and what we shouldn’t tolerate is the idea that local councils can decide how often you can go to the shops.” (Stuart Biggs)

Coutinho Attacks Labour’s ‘Toxic’ Green Plan (11:15 a.m.)

Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho defended Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s recent watering down of the government’s green agenda, calling it a more popular approach among voters than the opposition Labour Party’s approach to climate change and the environment.

“Their plans are toxic and would collapse support for net zero,” Coutinho told the conference. That is an echo of Sunak’s own line, and like the prime minister, Coutinho also blamed what she called eco-zealots for dividing the country on net zero. 

Like the other speakers, she took aim at Labour leader Keir Starmer, who is a vegetarian, as part of a jibe about how she said environmentalists want to limit the eating habits of the general public. “They choose ideology over reason at every turn,” she said of Labour. (Joe Mayes)

‘New Conservatives’ Want Tax, Immigration Cuts (10:45 a.m.)

Former Prime Minster Liz Truss is due to appeal for tax cuts at a “Great British Growth Rally” later on Monday. But she isn’t the only Tory agitator in town. Thirteen MPs from the “New Conservatives” have put their name to a “Rally for the Manifesto” that volunteers are handing to delegates on Monday.

They’re making five demands for Tory electoral promises at the next national vote, widely expected next year. They are: replacing existing human rights and equalities laws with a new framework, cutting taxes for families and businesses, halving visas issued to migrants, cutting those eligible for student loans and boosting apprenticeships, and banning “gender ideology” in schools.

The MPs named on the leaflet advertising the event include former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, former party Chairman Jake Berry, former Home Secretary Priti Patel and former Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg. (Alex Morales)

Shapps: World Should ‘Stick Together’ on Ukraine (10:30 a.m.)

UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps played down a move by the US Congress to pass a spending bill without funding for Ukraine to avoid a government shutdown, dismissing suggestions there were cracks in the West’s support.

“I feel very passionately the world needs to stick together on this,” he told a panel at Conservative Party conference. Pressed by Bloomberg, he added: “I don’t think we should over-read into the negotiations that have to take place in order to get a single piece of the budget through.”

The potential return of Donald Trump to the White House next year would not necessarily result in the “worst case scenario” of the US cutting its support for Ukraine, Shapps told the event. Trump has a “big issue with China and is obviously concerned about Taiwan,” he said. “Many experts would suggest that you don’t want to accidentally send the wrong message to China, that force is kind of OK to use.” (Emily Ashton)

Donelan: UK Should Lead on AI Safety (9.20 a.m.)

The UK wants to lead on artificial intelligence safety in order to “grip the risks” that the technology presents, Science and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan told a panel at Conservative Party conference.

Donelan said she wants to ensure the UK is “regulating to innovate” in order to provide clarity and certainty to industry so they don’t have to answer to various different regulators. It comes ahead of a global AI summit that Donelan and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will host next month, which aims to bring together heads of state and business leaders to help shape AI regulation.

“The rate at which its developing is like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” Donelan said. “That will offer incredible opportunities for mankind but also presents big risks.” (Ellen Milligan)

Hunt Wants More Pension Investment in Growth Firms (8 a.m.)

Asked on Bloomberg TV about the potential for a government-backed growth fund, Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt said he wants more pension pots to invest in startups and tech firms.

“We want to make it easier for big pension funds to invest in growth companies,” he said. Britain has the largest technology sector outside China and the US and the aim is to maintain that position, he added.

Bloomberg reported over the weekend the UK government is considering copying the Canada Growth Fund to help channel investment into green technology and fast-growing businesses in a bid to boost the economy. (Joe Mayes)

Read More: UK Considers Copy of Canada’s Growth Fund to Boost Investment

Stride to Target ‘Deadbeat Dads’ Over Child Support (8 a.m.)

Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride will announce a crackdown on “deadbeat dads” who refuse to pay child maintenance as part of a package of welfare reforms designed to encourage more people to work.

In his speech later on Monday, Stride will set out a series of policies to force parents to pay maintenance payments to their children more quickly.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt’s fiscal statement next month is expected to focus on welfare reforms, with the government determined to hit an internal target of getting 1 million people back to work. Stride has already announced welfare changes that would make it harder for working-age Britons with “limited capability” for work to get disability benefits. (Joe Mayes)

Hunt: No Fiscal Headroom For Tax Cuts (7:55 a.m.)

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the public finances don’t currently allow for tax cuts and he’s waiting for new figures from Britain’s spending watchdog.

“There’s no fiscal headroom,” Hunt said in a Bloomberg TV interview in Manchester. Hunt also said the government is “turning the tide” on inflation and doesn’t want to undermine those efforts through tax cuts that would increase spending in the economy. (Joe Mayes)

Hunt: Debt Payments Limit Space for Tax Cuts (7:40 a.m.)

Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt said Britain’s debt interest bill has risen markedly since his spring budget due to higher interest rates, and those costs limit his space for tax cuts.

“Our debt interest payments as a country have gone up dramatically,” Hunt told BBC TV on Monday. “I don’t know what’s going to happen in the spring or next year.” (Joe Mayes)

Hunt Ducks Questions on Future of HS2 Rail (7:35 a.m.)

Another key topic at the Tory conference in Manchester is whether the government is preparing to scrap the planned northern leg of the flagship HS2 high-speed rail project to the city from Birmingham.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt batted away questions on the future of the UK’s HS2 rail project on Sky News, saying an announcement will be made at the “appropriate time.” But he also said that costs for the project are ten times higher than building high speed rail in France.

He later told the BBC he took a British Airways flight from London to Manchester for the conference, because his scheduled train was canceled due to strikes. (Joe Mayes)

Read More; Sunak Refuses to Commit to UK HS2 Rail Project as Costs Rise

Hunt: Don’t Know If Pre-Election Tax Cuts Possible (7:15 a.m.)

Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt said he couldn’t guarantee he’d be able to cut taxes before the next general election, even as a clamor grows within his Conservative Party to do so.

“We don’t know whether that’s going to be possible,” Hunt said on Times Radio on Monday. He said tax cuts now would be inflationary and undermine the government’s efforts to curb rising prices.

Hunt also said he doesn’t plan to run again to be Tory leader, saying “I’m completely cured of that.” (Joe Mayes)

Hunt Vows to Raise UK’s National Living Wage (Earlier)

Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt will pledge to raise wages for the UK’s lowest-paid workers in his speech to the conference on Monday.

The UK will increase the national living wage to at least £11 ($13.42) an hour from £10.42, Hunt is due to say on Monday at the Tory Party conference, according to an e-mailed statement. That will increase annual earnings for full-time workers by at least £1,000.

At the same time, the government will crack down on welfare claimants with a review of the sanctions regime in order to encourage more people to return to work. “Those who won’t even look for work do not deserve the same benefits as people trying hard to do the right thing,” the chancellor is due to say. (Joe Mayes)

Badenoch Says Sunak Was “Brave” to Retreat on Net Zero (Earlier)

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch will call Rishi Sunak “brave” for “shattering a lazy consensus about the costs of net zero” after the prime minister last month pushed back deadlines for ending the sale of petrol-fueled vehicles and eased the push to replace gas boilers in homes.

Badenoch, hotly tipped to put herself forward for the Party leadership a second time if Sunak loses the next election, will hail Sunak’s ability to not “dance to the tune of the metropolitan bubble on energy policy” in her speech to the conference on Monday.

She will also dismiss economic models that demonstrate the negative impact Brexit has had on the economy. ”I’m here to set the record straight,” she will say. “They tell you Brexit is costing Britain 4% of GDP per year. WRONG.” The 4% figure stems from analysis by the government’s own fiscal adviser, the Office for Budget Responsibility. (Ellen Milligan)

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