“There was me thinking we’d voted in the Conservatives”.

Headlines in Tory supporting papers were not complimentary about Jeremy Hunt’s tax-raising Autumn Statement.

And it has left some MPs questioning whether their party is #CINO – conservative in name only.

There are some in government who view Hunt and Rishi Sunak’s attempts to park their tanks on Labour lawns with a focus on fairness and getting the best off to pay a larger share as smart politics. The fact that Hunt unveiled plans to draft in not one but two former Labour figures to advise on government policy shows that in Downing Street they see a political advantage to reaching across the divide.

But as with everything in politics, it’s a balancing act – and the risk to Sunak is that by moving leftwards to reach the centre, he opens an opportunity on the right.

Former cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg toured the broadcast studios declaring that Hunt had taken the ‘easy option’ by raising taxes rather than just cutting spending and warning of the risks of such a strategy – even if he will begrudgingly vote for it.

The problem for Sunak is that when it comes to this wing of the party, Rees-Mogg is actually one of the more loyal figures. Signs of an opposition front are beginning to show.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed in No 10 that former party chairman Jake Berry has gone on the record both in the case of Suella Braverman and the now departed Cabinet Office minister Gavin Williamson to question their appointment and put pressure on Sunak. “The wounds are still fresh. There are Liz backers who don’t want Rishi to succeed,” says one former minister.
Others plan to rub salt in the wound.

Another Johnson loyalist, Nadine Dorries, is penning a book on the supposed coup against Sunak’s erstwhile neighbour. The view of Westminster insiders is it will make uncomfortable reading for Sunak. “There are Boris supporters who think everything is a conspiracy against him,” says a former government aide.

But ultimately the biggest problem for Sunak could come from the right outside of his party. Already the Reform Party has attempted to weaponise the autumn budget – accusing the Tories of causing high taxes, ‘hammering’ hardworking Britons, going back on promises and not cutting waste.

Until now the party – led by the businessman Richard Tice – has struggled to gain ground in the way the Brexit Party did under Nigel Farage. But now Farage is at least flirting with the idea of a comeback – claiming he has been flooded with requests since Sunak took over.

A party to the right of the Tories doesn’t have to win a single seat to be a problem for Sunak. Even if it hits just eight per cent it can eat into the Tory vote and mean that under the first past the post system they could take pivotal votes away from the Tories in marginal seats.

Is there really such an appetite for a low-tax party after the chaos of Liz Truss’s not so mini Budget? It’s certainly the concern of low-tax Tories that their agenda has become less credible.

While there would clearly be some takers, the greater opportunity to win over disheartened Tory voters could be to capitalise on a different Tory weakness: small boats.

Sunak has said illegal Channel crossings are a key priority for him. He knows how potent it is with Tory voters. It is no longer enough for the Conservatives to talk tough – they need to show results. A survey for the More in Common think-tank this month found that illegal Channel crossings is the top reason why almost half of those who voted Conservative at the last election plan to switch to another party at the next general election. However, it could also cause problems for the opposition.

A portion of 2019 “Red Wall” voters could go for a party of the populist right rather than switching straight back to Labour. A charismatic leader would still be required to really give any such effort momentum. Conservative MPs hope that Farage is too busy making money and with his TV career to be tempted back. But he might not be able to resist one last effort to get elected to Parliament.

Sunak’s major opponent remains Labour – just look at their stable poll lead. Yet his most deadly opponent could come from the right – whether inside or out of the Tory party.

QOSHE - 'There are Liz backers who don’t want Rishi to succeed': Labour are not the only threat to PM - Katy Balls
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'There are Liz backers who don’t want Rishi to succeed': Labour are not the only threat to PM

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19.11.2022

“There was me thinking we’d voted in the Conservatives”.

Headlines in Tory supporting papers were not complimentary about Jeremy Hunt’s tax-raising Autumn Statement.

And it has left some MPs questioning whether their party is #CINO – conservative in name only.

There are some in government who view Hunt and Rishi Sunak’s attempts to park their tanks on Labour lawns with a focus on fairness and getting the best off to pay a larger share as smart politics. The fact that Hunt unveiled plans to draft in not one but two former Labour figures to advise on government policy shows that in Downing Street they see a political advantage to reaching across the divide.

But as with everything in politics, it’s a balancing act – and the risk to Sunak is that by moving leftwards to reach the centre, he opens an opportunity on the right.

Former cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg toured the broadcast studios declaring that Hunt had taken the ‘easy option’ by raising taxes rather than just cutting spending and warning of the risks of such a strategy........

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