Rishi Sunak was praised by Tory delegates for an “amazing” conference speech which saw him cancel the Manchester leg of HS2, scrap A-Levels and announce a long-term smoking ban.
Attendees leaving the packed Manchester conference hall were effusive in their reactions to the Prime Minister – and vowed they were “confident” he could win the next election.
Education secretary Gillian Keegan was seen wiping away tears in the hall as Sunak told of his grandfather’s reaction to visiting him in Parliament for the first time, while international development minister Andrew Mitchell told City A.M. the speech was brilliant.
One attendee, who didn’t give his name, commented: “It was absolutely amazing – fantastic vision.
“I think there’s a buzz about the place. No more flipflopping, we need long-term decisions and I think he’s the man to do it and they’ve got a fantastic team.”
Asked what policies stood out, he said: “All of them. I think this is it – this is what Brexit was about and I think we’re going to do it.”
Rabbi Arnie Saunders, who is set to stand for the Tories in Bury South, after the MP Christian Wakefield crossed the floor to Labour, called the speech “brave and courageous”.
He added: “HS2 I think is a brave decision but I think it is the correct decision provided that all the money that was going to be invested into it is invested into other projects.
“But you heard yourself what he said, that’s a guarantee, so I liked it.”
Saunders added: “I’m very confident – in my own seat – and I’m confident that we will win the next election.
“We might not have an 80-seat majority like last time but I think the polls will narrow and we will win it.”
Epping Forest councillor Holly Whitbread said she thought Sunak’s long-term approach, and keeping cutting inflation as his top priority, meant her party “had a real chance to win”.
She said: “I think he’s making the right choice to focus on long term decisions.
“I think it’s definitely a change in direction. The news around HS2 showed a different take on things and more pragmatism moving forward as well.”
And she described Sunak’s premiership as a “new government” – despite the Conservative Party having been in power for the past 13 years.
“I thought there were some really interesting ideas and policies and I think it’s certainly a new government… Rishi’s really building his own path forward,” she said.
On their election chances, she added: “I hope we win the next election – I mean it’s going to be difficult.
“We’ve had a pandemic and it’s been such a hard time but I think with these long term policies we’ve got a real chance to win.”
John, from Scotland, who watched the speech screened in an overflow centre, where he said the atmosphere was “great”, added: “It was good, he offered a pragmatic approach.
“He’s sensible and level-headed and he actually stands for something, unlike some people.”
Conference attendees are, of course, drawn from the ranks of the party faithful, some of whom haven’t missed one in years.
This even more so in a year where the Tories are lagging miles behind in the polls, with Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party boasting a 20-point lead.
Their national campaign coordinator Pat McFadden claimed the speech was “Rishi Sunak’s latest desperate attempt to reset his weak leadership and divided government”.
Whether the rest of the country will have listened to the speech with quite the same enthusiasm – or at all – is another question entirely.