The apparent leak of HS2 scrapping will now overshadow all the positive relaunch material with which Mr Sunak had hoped to win back the voters who always give Labor a big lead in the polls.
Regardless of whether you agree with HS2 or not, canceling the second leg would be embarrassing for the UK. It would be embarrassing because it shows our inability to complete a major infrastructure project – how can the cost rise from £32 billion to £180 billion and what does that say about the successive Conservative transport ministers responsible for this ?
It would be embarrassing because Britain would be left with a little stubby thing flying very quickly from somewhere near London to Birmingham that no one has ever heard of. All that fear and hugging in the home counties when the first stage was built wouldn’t have to have happened if the extensions to the north-west and north-east – areas in need of better connectivity – never happened.
And it would be embarrassing because of what is said about us: Why can other countries, from the Continent to Japan, build modern railways when Britain, the birthplace of railways, cannot?
The conference was supposed to be about Mr Sunak taking the lead, but he must be able to hear the dissatisfaction behind him getting louder and louder: over the weekend various ministers, led by Suella Braverman, appeared to be making a soft start to their leadership campaigns, while the star in Manchester on Monday was Liz Truss and her radical agenda. His speech on Wednesday is likely to be the defining moment of his short term as prime minister.