The Prime Minister Liz Truss and her Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng have met with the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) in a bid to move on from the week of economic chaos since the mini budget.
After the government’s package of major tax cuts spooked investors, the pound tumbled to record lows against the dollar. Sterling has rallied marginally since then as the Bank of England announced a major government bond buying exercise to prop up national debt markets.
Before appearing on BBC local radio stations on Thursday (29 September), one of the biggest questions facing Ms Truss was ‘where have you been?’ given the PM had not made any public statements about the economic crisis. A similar question is now being asked about Rishi Sunak, who has disappeared since losing the Tory leadership contest.
So, ahead of Liz Truss’s make-or-break Conservative Party Conference 2022, where is the former Chancellor? Here’s what you need to know.
When is Conservative Party Conference 2022?
Conservative Party Conference is about to take place at the ICC in central Birmingham. It will run from Sunday 2 October until Wednesday 5 October.
The biggest event of the political calendar for the party and its supporters is normally used as an opportunity to showcase policy ideas and present a united front to the general public. However, this year’s edition is set to be overshadowed by the political jeopardy facing Liz Truss.
Most of the new Prime Minister’s cabinet will be making speeches to the conference covering their ministerial portfolios. Here is when some of the key speeches will take place:
- Sunday 2 October (4pm until 6pm)
The opening session of the conference will kick off with tributes to Queen Elizabeth II before speeches about ‘delivering for the nation’ from the following key speakers, amongst others:
- Jake Berry (Conservative Party chair)
- Ben Wallace (Defence Secretary)
- Monday 3 October (4pm to 6pm)
This session will cover the Tories’ plans for ‘delivering a growing economy’, with speeches coming from:
- Kwasi Kwarteng (Chancellor of the Exchequer)
- Jacob Rees-Mogg (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary)
- Chloe Smith (Department for Work & Pensions Secretary)
- Tuesday 4 October (4pm to 6pm)
On Tuesday, several key ministers will showcase their plans for ‘delivering better public services’, including:
- Thérèse Coffey (Deputy PM and Health Secretary)
- Suella Braverman (Home Secretary)
A foreign affairs speech will also be given by Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.
- Wednesday 5 October (10am to 12pm)
The final day of the Conservative Party Conference will see speeches given on the subject of ‘getting Britain moving’ from Jake Berry and Nadhim Zahawi - who is now the de facto head of the Cabinet Office.
But the biggest speech of the day will come from the Prime Minister Liz Truss.
Where is Rishi Sunak?
While the Prime Minister’s speech is usually the premier event of the Conservative Party Conference, there have been some years when the focus of the event has been elsewhere.
Sometimes the most attention grabbing events are on the fringe of the conference. In 1992, Tory grandee Norman Tebbit hobbled John Major’s premiership by leading an anti-EU revolt against the PM.
In 2018, little more than 12 months after Theresa May’s leadership was undermined by a poor General Election result, Boris Johnson gave what was essentially an alternative leader’s speech on the fringe of the party conference.
But in 2022, the focus is likely to be on who is absent from the conference hall. A growing number of Conservative MPs are set to give the event a miss, including one Rishi Sunak.
While some may have been put off by the train strikes that are set to book-end the Conservatives’ annual shindig, many of the absent figures are Rishi Sunak supporters. It has led to speculation that their decision to avoid the event is a sign of a dislike of Liz Truss’s policy direction (at best) or a complete lack of confidence in her (at worst).
Big names who will not be in Birmingham include:
- Ex-PM Boris Johnson
- Former Brexit secretary David Davis
- Ex-Chancellor and Home Secretary Sajid Javid
- Treasury Select Committee chair Mel Stride
What about Rishi Sunak? Well the former Chancellor is believed to be in his Richmond constituency in North Yorkshire.
No official reason has been given for why he will not attend his party’s headline political event. But given his criticism of Liz Truss’s economic agenda - one he described as a “fairytale” in leadership hustings - it could be a sign of a lack of support for the embattled PM.
Or, it may be because he does not wants to distract attention from her. What Mr Sunak’s absence has done, however, is underline the splits in the Conservative Party.