Published On: Mon, Jan 8th, 2024

Rishi Sunak gets standing ovation for promise to voters at PM Connect event in Accrington | Politics | News

A milk advert in the 1980s famously saw two young Liverpool fans ask: “Accrington Stanley, Who Are They?”

And Rishi Sunak, speaking in his latest PM Connect event in Accrington, made sure voters could not be in any doubt about who the Prime Minister is.

Ahead of this year’s General Election, Mr Sunak attempted to fire up the Tory grassroots by reeling off a list of achievements and outlining his vision for 2024 and beyond.

What was the biggest round of applause for?

His message that people smugglers must not be in charge of who can come to this country.

Immigration feels like it will be one of the most important topics in this year’s vote – alongside the economy.

And Mr Sunak focused much of his speech at Accrington Stanley Football Club on these issues.

He insisted the Government had made progress on each of his priorities in 2023 – halving inflation, cutting debt, growing the economy, cutting the NHS waiting list and stopping the boats.

Amid concern over the Conservatives’ rating in the polls, this is exactly what the troops needed to hear.

Some of the audience nodded in agreement as the PM said he was now in a position to cut taxes and the boss of one local manufacturing firm hailed Rishi Sunak’s record on funding for Northern towns like Accrington.

They said they hadn’t seen this much Government funding “in my lifetime” and praised local MP Sara Britcliffe for her work in the community.

But with the starting gun seemingly fired on the next General Election campaign, though of course not officially, Mr Sunak was quick to draw the battle lines with Labour.

In fact, the Prime Minister seemed to draw on the famous Milk Marketing Board advert, warning the public that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has been “Leader of the Opposition for four years now and in that time, he hasn’t said what he would do differently. That’s because he doesn’t have a plan. He just snipes from the sidelines instead.”

Perhaps he wanted the message to be: “Keir, who is he?”

On the most contentious issues of the day, including the shocking Post Office Horizon scandal, Mr Sunak left no-one in any doubt about his feelings on the issue.

He said victims of the Post Office scandal had been treated “appallingly” and declared “we should do everything we can to make it right”.

And, going further than he has before, he branded it an “absolutely appalling miscarriage of justice”.

On immigration, he seemed to offer an olive branch to members of his own party concerned the Safety of Rwanda Bill is fundamentally flawed and will still be open to.

He declared if anyone has any “bright ideas”, he is willing to listen.

But in a bullish message to Labour, he urged opponents of the Bill to come forward with their own proposals that can stop the boats.

He dodged a potentially awkward moment over his previous support for the Rwanda scheme as a whole, denying he wanted to scrap the Rwanda plan.

Opposing the central element of the Government’s plan to cut illegal migration would have set alarm bells ringing through certain sections of the Conservative Party – a battle he can ill afford to have.

And, to speak frankly, getting flights off the ground will be central to the Government’s chances of winning the next election.

It will show that ministers can grip this issue, which is important to so many voters.

He told members of the audience: “Ultimately we funded the scheme because I believe in the scheme.

“We need a deterrent – of course, we need a deterrent.

“People need to know that if they come here illegally, they won’t get to stay.”

The starting gun has been fired. But, judging by the way Mr Sunak came out punching this morning, we won’t be asking “Rishi, who is he?”

He will be hoping people ask those questions of the Labour leader.

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