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Rishi Sunak scraps HS2 to save £36bn in Conservative Party conference speech – but will Kent benefit?

Party leaders often have to make conference speeches against a challenging backdrop – and for Rishi Sunak, his address to the party faithful had no shortage of issues that he had to deal with.

The long-expected announcement on HS2 was confirmed and, amid all the criticism, he just about managed to pass it off as a good thing, pledging that the £36bn saved would be re-invested in other projects.

CGI of HS2 train
CGI of HS2 train

Whether Kent will benefit from this largesse is unclear – but it was not mentioned at all in the long list of schemes Sunak reeled off to loud cheers and applause in the conference hall.

As to the issue of immigration, he made a strong defence of the efforts to stem the number of small boats crossing the Channel, claiming that the government’s strategy was working and that there had been a 20% drop in crossings.

“I’m confident that once flights start going regularly to Rwanda that boats will stop coming. I am confident that our approach complies with our international obligations. But know this, I will do whatever is necessary to stop the boats,” he said

That determination to deal with what has proved to be one of the government’s most intractable problems went down well in the conference room and there was a more measured tone than the speech by Suella Braverman the previous day.

On education, the pledge to scrap A-levels and introduce new courses and qualifications that he said would be more appropriate may be seen as more unwelcome meddling by teachers.

There was nothing at all said about the ongoing concerns around development and house-building targets; similarly, no reference to the plight of cash-strapped councils threatened with bankruptcy.

The key question is whether his speech will do enough to persuade voters and party activists that he is the man to lead the country. It was certainly confident and assured – but he will only know the answer to that question when there is an election.

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