LONDON — Wily local radio journalists dealt a mortal blow to Liz Truss — and even won an award for it. On Thursday it was Rishi Sunak’s turn.
The U.K. prime minister faced a tough round of questions — on everything from transport to crumbling schools — Thursday as a clutch of plugged-in local radio hosts got their chance to grill him. It comes a year after his short-serving predecessor Truss stuttered her way through a car-crash round of local radio interviews. Some of those hosts even bagged a broadcasting award for their interrogation.
The regional media round has become a fixture of the pre-party conference scene for a British prime minister, with Downing Street hoping to flood local media with the PM’s messages and show a government in touch with everyday concerns.
But as Sunak prepares to face his party diehards at Tory conference this weekend, he’s facing intense scrutiny over the fate of High Speed 2, a long-planned rail line that has been rolled back from its initial plans amid heightening costs.
Amid fears he may roll it back further by scrapping the project’s Birmingham to Manchester leg, Sunak refused to commit either way — to more than one host’s chagrin.
“Are you scrapping the HS2 line between Birmingham and Manchester?” BBC Radio Manchester’s Anna Jameson asked.
“I’m not speculating on future things — we’ve got spades in the ground [on the current phase of the project] and we’re getting on,” Sunak replied — before attempting to shift topic onto his government’s efforts to “make sure the roads are free of potholes.”
“We’re not talking about potholes,” the presenter snapped back. “The main story right now across the country is that people want to know about the future of HS2 and still now you can’t give me a yes or no. And you’re the man in control.”
Another presenter, Andrew Peach on BBC Radio Berkshire, told the PM “it is not really acceptable to say you don’t really know” about the future of HS2, while BBC Radio Three Counties’ Babs Michel asked Sunak “what is the point” of HS2 if the plans are to change yet again.
“It doesn’t help us at all in Bucks [Buckinghamshire] if we have a train line from Birmingham to somewhere called Old Oak Common,” Michel said, referring to mooted plans for HS2 to stop at a station on London’s outskirts.
Sunak argued the new station will have “very strong” connections to central London — as he tried to hold the pre-party conference line on HS2.
Any hopes of a softball finish were dashed by the prime minister’s final interviewer of the morning. Berkshire’s Peach jokingly asked Sunak if his mum and dad think he’s got a “proper job.”
“Good question. I’m very fortunate that I grew up in a very loving household,” Sunak replied.