How will Labour react to yet another extraordinary Tory conference? Last year the Conservatives gathered to scrap Liz Truss. This year it was the turn of HS2, along with clear signs that the party wants to lurch to the right under “Hurricane Braverman”.
It is quite a tricky call as Labour delegates gather in Liverpool. The Prime Minister is fizzing with ideas (Network North, smoking ban, education shake up) They may be wrong and never delivered, but the Tories have flagged up that they are going to give Labour a run for their money.
Sir Keir Starmer meanwhile has been proceeding gently across the drawing room floor holding the Ming vase of a 20% opinion poll lead, avoiding any promise that might shatter his advantage. I fear that if the Liverpool conference does not give us some firm promises on things like social care and housing (neither mentioned by Rishi Sunak in his speech) then, with an improving economy, that opinion poll lead could narrow.
That brings us to the scrapping of HS2 to Manchester. It is unrealistic to expect Labour to promise to reinstate it. The contracts will be wound down in the next year and the properties on the line of route through Staffordshire and Cheshire, bought with £423m of your money, will be back on the market. Although the project was approved in the dying months of Gordon Brown’s government, Sir Keir Starmer has not always been a fan. The Tories have dredged up a quote from 2015 where he said he was against it on the grounds of cost and merit. What Labour can do is to pledge to back the new Network North to the full. That includes £12bn on the Manchester-Liverpool line and the new station and links to Bradford.
They might be trusted to see it through because do you trust the Tories to deliver the £36bn that the Prime Minister now says is available for rail, road, and bus schemes? Their credibility with business is shot to pieces. This country’s global reputation for big scale infrastructure is in the gutter as is devolution to the North and Midlands
What a way to treat the representatives of devolved power! While ministers lied that a decision had not been taken, mayors Andy Burnham and Andy Street were left to protest outside the Midland Hotel. Street eventually got a meeting amid speculation he would resign as West Midlands mayor. What concessions he got is for another day.
The HS2 drama sometimes distracted from signs that the Tory right is pulling the current Prime Minister their way. Sunak declined to condemn his Home Secretary’s inflammatory language on immigration. If he loses the election, the main contenders to succeed him seem to be a trio of right wing women, Braverman, Badenoch and Patel, all competing to see how fast they could take Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights.