LONDON – The UK’s ruling Conservative Party is gearing up for its annual conference, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak aiming to rejuvenate the party’s prospects as a general election looms on the horizon.
The four-day event, commencing on Sunday in Manchester, is set against a backdrop of economic challenges, with the party currently trailing the Labour opposition in the polls.
Sunak, who will deliver the closing keynote speech, is working to refocus the party’s agenda and regain voter confidence. This year’s conference theme is “long-term decisions for a brighter future,” emphasizing the need to address pressing long-term issues.
However, Sunak faces significant challenges, including a cost-of-living crisis, soaring inflation, and slow economic growth.
Additionally, divisions within the party over issues like climate change, infrastructure spending, and taxes may come to the forefront during the conference.
The conference is expected to touch on highly politicized issues like immigration and transgender rights to energize the party base.
With three by-elections approaching, the Conservatives could face losses despite their 2019 victories in two of these constituencies.
Last year’s conference was overshadowed by Truss’s short-lived leadership and controversial mini-budget, which roiled financial markets and the party.
Sunak, who took office in October 2022, has focused on stabilizing the UK’s economy during his first year in power.
He made five key pledges at the beginning of 2023, including addressing inflation, economic growth, and immigration issues.
Despite these efforts, the Labour Party has consistently led in the polls, painting Sunak as out of touch with the public.
As the conference approaches, Sunak has attempted to shift the national conversation toward his long-term priorities, even as he faces backlash over recent policy announcements, including a softening of green policies aimed at achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
His rumored plans to cancel a high-speed train line and potential changes to education policy and inheritance tax are also expected to generate discussions on the conference’s sidelines.
The conference’s outcome will be closely watched as the Conservative Party prepares for a challenging general election in the near future.