Tory MPs sat silently through much of Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement. As the Chancellor warned the UK was already in a recession and announced a number of tax rises, the usual raucous Budget-day cheers were absent.

The crucial question: were the Tory MPs so quiet because the news was so grim or because they couldn’t stomach the measures he was announcing?

There was very little to cheer about. The most animated MPs became was when Hunt announced that the pensions triple lock would stay in place. But that in itself isn’t exactly a rabbit – it’s a confirmation of the status quo.

More uncomfortable moments came when Hunt announced tax rises across the board. The Office for Budget Responsibility forecast that accompanied the statement points to how difficult the next few years will be – predicting the biggest fall in living standards since records began.

For a party that just two months ago was boasting that it would significantly lower the tax burden amid claims from the leadership that a recession was not inevitable, it’s a 180° turn. When Liz Truss was in Downing Street, she was frustrated by the MPs opposing her tax-cutting agenda – with her team deriding critics such as Michael Gove as social democrats. In private, some of those who cheered the mini-Budget loudest deride this as a social democrat Budget.

The hope in Downing Street is that they have made the best of a dismal hand. “It’s incredibly difficult, we’ve inherited a turd,” says one government source. “Jeremy sounded reasonable, like he was trying to be fair,” says one sympathetic MP. Another adds that it was a relief to have a Chancellor who seemed across the detail – in contrast to his predecessor Kwasi Kwarteng.

Rishi Sunak and Hunt are trying to undo the idea put forward in Truss’s not-so-mini-Budget that the Tories are a party that protects the rich first. That statement of intent can be seen in the way that, while Truss and Kwarteng tried to scrap the top rate of tax altogether, they have announced measures to drag more people into it.

Throughout the address, Hunt said the Conservative Party will always help the most vulnerable – raising benefits in line with inflation is meant to be read as an example of that. In focus groups, the suggestion has been that the public want a leader who levels with them.

The problem is what Sunak can do to pitch to the public that this is a fair offer will naturally go against the instincts of many on the right of the party. Since Sunak entered 10 Downing Street, his team have viewed keeping MPs on side as their No 1 priority given the trade-offs that would be coming down the track. The enhanced windfall tax is viewed as particularly unconservative.

MPs loyal to the low-tax Truss agenda – such as Kwasi Kwarteng and the former levelling up secretary Simon Clarke – are already showing signs of dissatisfaction.

Trussites are much more open to spending cuts in theory than tax rises. Esther McVey has already said she won’t back the Budget unless big spending on projects such as HS2 is ditched. Clarke said at the weekend the vast number of savings should be from cuts.

But while there are cuts, it is questionable how many of them will ever come to fruition. The vast majority are scheduled for after the election. Given the Tories are on course according to the latest polls to lose it, they may never come to pass. There’s also a question as to whether any major political party would really go into an election campaign promising mass spending cuts. It suggests even the Tories could try to row back on their plans.

Where a row is already brewing is on fuel duty. It’s not something Hunt announced – but the OBR document assumes a 12p a litre rise in fuel duty in March next year. “It seems inappropriately timed,” says one MP in a red wall seat. “We’d never have got away with it,” says a former adviser to Truss. While such a move would face resistance, it is unclear that the Government actually plans to bring this in.

Where other grievances are forming in the party is the fact that rich pensioners have more to celebrate in government help than the young. There’s also concern among some MPs on the right of the party that Hunt and Sunak will find it harder to say no to requests for inflation-linked public sector pay rises after bringing benefits in line with inflation. The best thing one can say about it is that “Starmer didn’t look happy and that’s something”.

Ultimately MPs aren’t thrilled about the announcements but many aren’t sure what the alternative is. “I think it will get the support of MPs,” says a minister. “The party has realised we need to pull together. There will be some who oppose it and would never like it but that happened even in the Cameron era. It just needs to not rise above a certain point.”

Katy Balls is deputy political editor at ‘The Spectator’

QOSHE - Deflated Tories begrudgingly accept there is no alternative to Jeremy Hunt's plans - Katy Balls
We use cookies to provide some features and experiences in QOSHE

More information  .  Close
Aa Aa Aa
- A +

Deflated Tories begrudgingly accept there is no alternative to Jeremy Hunt's plans

3 0 0
17.11.2022

Tory MPs sat silently through much of Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement. As the Chancellor warned the UK was already in a recession and announced a number of tax rises, the usual raucous Budget-day cheers were absent.

The crucial question: were the Tory MPs so quiet because the news was so grim or because they couldn’t stomach the measures he was announcing?

There was very little to cheer about. The most animated MPs became was when Hunt announced that the pensions triple lock would stay in place. But that in itself isn’t exactly a rabbit – it’s a confirmation of the status quo.

More uncomfortable moments came when Hunt announced tax rises across the board. The Office for Budget Responsibility forecast that accompanied the statement points to how difficult the next few years will be – predicting the biggest fall in living standards since records began.

For a party that just two months ago was boasting that it would significantly lower the tax burden amid claims from the leadership that a recession was not inevitable, it’s a 180° turn. When Liz Truss was in Downing Street, she was frustrated by the MPs opposing her tax-cutting agenda – with her team deriding critics such as Michael........

© iNews


Get it on Google Play