HS2 and a Conservative tax pledge will be on Rishi Sunak's mind at Tory conference in Manchester

It could be an awkward Conservative Party Conference for Rishi Sunak, as Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports from Manchester.

Rishi Sunak couldn't take the train up to Manchester today, a rail strike saw to that. Of course he might be limiting the number of people who take the train up in future too if - as widely expected - he cancels the remaining northern leg of HS2.

Many people in Manchester may prefer a decent connection to Leeds to HS2, but the message the mooted cancellation sends as the Tories gather here for their conference is hardly positive.

Today, Theresa May joined David Cameron and Boris Johnson in calling for the line to be built. 

Asked during a Q&A at Henley Literary Festival whether HS2 should be scrapped, Mrs May said: "The answer is no... we have to think about why HS2 was designed in the first place.

"It was because there was a lack of capacity on the West Coast Main Line.

"So if there is a lack of capacity on the West Coast Main Line, we need more railway capacity to serve the North West."

A further distraction popped up this morning in the form of a Tory "tax pledge". More than 30 Conservative MPs, including Liz Truss, but drawing from different wings of the party have signed this pledge.

It takes the form of a promise to voters and reads; "I (insert MPs Name) pledge to the taxpayers of (constituency) and to the British people, that I will not vote for or support any new taxes that increase the overall tax burden. My pledge will protect the working people, families and businesses of our United Kingdom."

Amongst Conservatives this is relatively uncontentious in principle, but in practice it is nothing less than a threat to vote against any tax raising budget. That would effectively be an issue of confidence in the prime minister.

So far it is just backbenchers who have signed the pledge but two junior ministers - Tom Tugendhat and Steve Baker - have followed the @TaxPledge account on X (formerly known as Twitter) so are at least showing an interest.

So the prime minister is now caught between those Tories who would have him spend more, and building HS2 to Manchester will require more cash, and those who would have him tax less. And the Conservatives are 20 points behind Labour in the polls. No wonder there is yet another distraction for the PM emerging within Tory ranks; the jockeying for position of those who think they might replace him as leader.

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