UK's Ruling Conservatives Vow to Stay in Power

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (R) attends the Conservative Party's annual conference in Manchester, Britain, Oct. 2, 2023. The Conservative Party's annual conference is held from Oct. 1 to 4. in Manchester. Photo by Xinhua

LONDON —  At its ongoing annual conference, the ruling Conservative Party of the United Kingdom (UK) vowed on Tuesday to stay in power as the next general election is a little over one year away.

Michael Gove, the UK's secretary of state for leveling up, delivered an upbeat message to the conference participants in Manchester. He said the Conservatives will "fight, fight and fight again for the country we love."

"We have got a record to be proud of... a record of delivery against the odds. And a record that every one of us should be proclaiming every single day from now until the next general election because this is a record which will give us victory."

Gove's speech was seen as a trailblazer for a keynote address by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday. Delegates and political commentators are eagerly awaiting what will be Sunak's conference debut in a speech expected to set the scene for the general election, which has to be held by the end of January 2025 at the latest.

The conference has been overshadowed by the fate of the country's biggest ever infrastructure project, the HS2 high-speed rail line linking London with northern England.

Speculation has reached fever pitch that Sunak will announce a plan to abandon or delay phase two of the 100-billion-pound (120.7 billion U.S. dollars) project, keeping only the first phase between London and Birmingham, the UK's second largest city.

Political and business leaders in the north have pleaded with Sunak to keep the project on track, with its original plan to reach Manchester.

In a round of media interviews last Wednesday, Sunak would not be drawn on what he plans to do about phase two.

The debate has prompted political commentators to say there is an air of nervousness around the conference compared to the usual mode of high spirits.

John Crace, parliamentary sketch writer at the Guardian newspaper, summed up the mood saying: "Not so much a party conference, more of a funeral wake. Four years ago, the Tories won an 80-seat majority and looked set to remain in power for another decade. Now they act like the walking dead. Shell-shocked, out of ideas. Desperate to find someone other than themselves to blame for the mess they've caused.

"Most reckon the Tories have little chance at the next election and that Sunak's days are numbered," he added.

Jon Tonge, a leading political expert at the University of Liverpool, told Xinhua on Tuesday that "A huge amount is hanging on Rishi Sunak's first conference speech as leader. Get it wrong and it will surely be his last as prime minister. Get it right and he will give his party hope for the election next year.

"He needs to be brave -- and will be, canceling the HS2 rail in the city for which it was destined. He also needs to be bold --offering an economic vision of growth, at least some reductions in tax, inflation slayed and a Brexit dividend. But even the sum of those parts may not save him."

Andy Street, Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, which includes Birmingham, issued a message to Sunak as he addressed reports about the fate of HS2.

Street told Sunak: "You will be turning your back on an opportunity to level up, a once-in-a-generation opportunity."

In 2019, when Boris Johnson was the occupant of 10 Downing Street, the Conservatives won a formidable 80-seat majority in the law-making House of Commons.

All opinion polls have all but ruled out a repeat of the landslide of 2019, with the main opposition Labour Party predicted to grab the keys to Downing Street under its leader, Keir Starmer.

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