THIS is no way to run a railway, let alone a country. Rishi Sunak has spent weeks evading a simple question about the Manchester leg of HS2, embarrassing himself on local radio stations by being unable to say yes or no to it, only for speculation to boil over at the party conference which is being held in Manchester.

The apparent leak of HS2’s scrapping is now going to overshadow all the positive relaunch material that Mr Sunak was hoping to use to win back the voters who are consistently giving Labour a large lead in the polls.

Whether you agree with HS2 or not, the scrapping of its second leg would be embarrassing for Britain. It would be embarrassing because it shows we don’t have the capability to complete a major infrastructure project – how can the cost bloom from £32bn to £180bn, and what does this say about successive Conservative transport secretaries in charge of it?

It would be embarrassing because Britain would be left with a stubby little thing that goes very fast to Birmingham from somewhere near London that no one has heard of. All that angst and tree- hugging in the Home Counties as the first leg was built need not have happened if the extensions to the north west and North East – areas that need better connectivity – were never going to happen.

And would be embarrassing because of what it says about us: why can other countries, from the continent to Japan, build modern railways when Britain, the birthplace of the railway, cannot?

The conference was supposed to be about Mr Sunak getting on the front foot, but he must be able to hear the discontent at his back growing louder: at the weekend, various ministers, led by Suella Braverman, appeared to be soft-launching leadership campaigns, while the star of Monday in Manchester was Liz Truss and her radical agenda. His speech on Wednesday is shaping up to be the defining moment of his short premiership.