A conference billed as the start of a Rishi Sunak reset has turned into the Rishi shambles over the past couple of days.
The prime minister has lost control over the narrative while we’ve been reminded very clearly by Liz Truss and other senior MPs that he never had control over his party or the grassroots.
Mr Sunak’s big announcement that he’s cancelling the high speed rail link to Manchester has dominated the news, even as the prime minister tours the studios saying he won’t be forced “into making premature decisions”.
We’ve seen the spectacle of the Tory Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street holding an impromptu news conference to beg the PM to change his mind while effectively threatening to resign.
We’ve watched Liz Truss return to denounce her successor’s entire approach to a packed room of cheering party activists. Even one of his own cabinet is freelancing on tax cuts before the election.
It all leaves an impression of a prime minister who might be known as competent, but is out of control and unable to unite his party.
At the Liz Truss rally on Monday, former cabinet minister Ranil Jayawardena, made the point that there were now 60 MPs in the Conservative growth group – enough to sink Mr Sunak’s working majority if he tries to put through policies in parliament they don’t like.
Meanwhile, he’s making huge decisions – on HS2 and the pace of decarbonisation of the economy – that will affect the country for decades, without a mandate from the public.
But when I asked Mr Sunak about whether he needed to go to the country to get a mandate if he really was serious about governing for the long term, he told me that an election “is not what the country wants”.
“That’s not what anyone wants,” he went on. “What people want is politicians making a difference to their lives.”
But in reality, the PM can’t risk an election now. Our Sky News poll tracker still put the Conservatives 17 point behind Labour – although one figure told me that the internal No 10 polling puts the gap far closer than than.
Tomorrow the PM is expected to announce he is scrapping the Birmingham to Manchester leg of HS2 and instead invest tens of billions into the Midlands and the North.
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He is trying to win over the public with policies for motorists and rolling back the transition to net zero on ordinary families, be that on heating their homes or switching to electric cars. Mr Sunak and his team genuinely believe they can win a fifth Conservative term.
When I asked him if he was going to be prime minister after the next general election, he replied instantly “of course”.
It’s a remark many voters might find presumptuous, and the opposition will no doubt seize on. But it’s also a reminder that Mr Sunak may not have a mandate, but he does have a plan to take the fight to Labour.