The internal fall-out over Sunak's Net Zero U-turn and Truss’ admission that her own party didn’t buy her tax cuts, tells us everything about the current state of a deeply divided Conservative party, where different factions, with their own ideologies, motives, followers, and agendas, will be vying to take grip of the party, post-general election.
It seems almost unreal that the party which won a famous landslide less than four years ago, bagging an 80-seat majority, is on course for a bitter trouncing in the next general election, which could see them out of contention for many years to come.
Just what will happen to the Tories post-election, given that for the last century and more they have been in power either by themselves, or leading coalitions for two-thirds of the time, is the subject of much speculation.
No doubt there will be epic internal disarray, with forces at play desperately trying to reshape direction and reverse the party’s fortunes. Will the hard-right launch some crazed Trumpian-style takeover, or will they think Starmer’s inheritance from Johnson, Truss and Sunak’s premierships will be so difficult to deal with that they will have a chance of booting him out after one term, if they behave half sensibly? Will they split to form a new party, or seek to take control of the existing one?
For a glimpse at what may unfold if the Conservatives become the party of opposition, we only have to look at Liz Truss’s incredible speech to the Institute for Government (IfG) on Monday. Making a defiant return to the political fray, Britain’s shortest-serving PM blamed everyone from the ‘anti-growth coalition’ to the civil service and Bank of England, and even, bizarrely, the Queen’s death, on her disastrous 49-day term in office. But, as Stephen Bush of the FT reflected, the most intriguing point of the speech was when she acknowledged, albeit briefly, that one of the problems was that the Conservative party wouldn’t wear her programme of tax cuts.
Net Zero rollback
Then there was the internal reaction to Sunak’s announcement of a major rollback on Net Zero policy this week. His plan to push the 2030 ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars and gas boilers back to 2035, was supported by a number of right-wing Tory MPs known for their anti-climate change positions, including Liz Truss, ministers Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman, and former minister Jacob Rees-Mogg. But the shift in policy also prompted accusations of betrayal and an outpouring of anger among many a Tory. Zac Goldsmith, former environment minister, who quit in June with a swipe at Sunak’s “apathy” toward climate change, accused the PM of turning net zero into a “US-style political wedge issue.”
Conservative MP, Chris Skidmore, who might once have represented the hope for a more thoughtful and united Tory Party had he not decided to stand down at the next election, spoke of writing a letter of no confidence in Sunak. This prompted even the Daily Express to headline: ‘War at the top of the Tory Party.’
Reaction to the Net Zero U-turn and Truss’ admission that her own party didn’t buy her tax cuts, tells us everything about the current state of a deeply divided Tory party, where different factions, with their own ideologies, motives, followers, and agendas, will be vying to take grip of the party, post-GE defeat.
And none more so than the free-market Trussites, who dream of deregulation, a smaller state and low tax. They clash with the Tory centrists, the moderates, the One Nation liberal conservatives, whatever you want to call them, who want to restore the conventional conservative tradition of the centre right.
Michael Gove is one such figure. During Truss’s premiership, the government stalwart launched a sustained broadside at her economic plans, insisting it was ‘not Conservative’ to fund tax cuts from borrowing and that it marked a betrayal of the party’s One Nation 2019 election manifesto.
Earlier this month, the Tory Reform Group (TRG), which, since forming in 1975, has been promoting the values of One Nation Conservatism, understanding these to be: realistic economic policy, open-minded social policy and internationalist foreign policy, held a One Nation Day conference with the One Nation caucus of Conservative MPs. The group, which comprises of nearly 100 parliamentarians, discussed its founding mission to develop a progressive social and political philosophy based upon the concepts of One Nation.
“We are not the rally rousing rebels of members seeking to depose the current PM, we want Rishi Sunak MP and his government to succeed and believe that if they are able to address the offer to the voters then they can do so,” the group told Politics Home.
The leading Tory centrists warned that the Conservatives must not become the party of ‘throwback nationalist populism and must reject the views espoused by ‘ideologues’ on the right.’
Writing for The Times, Damian Green, the former cabinet minister and chairman of the One Nation group, said that it is a “complete misreading” of the Tories to assume the party is right-wing. Green also said that leaving the European Court of Human Rights, something which the Brexit radicals champion, would be a “profound mistake.”
Conservative Growth Group
Such thinking could be not further from that of the Conservative Growth Group. The group was formed by Liz Truss allies following her removal from No. 10 last year. Membership has grown to around 60 members, representing approximately 17 percent of Tory MPs. It is led by two men who served in Truss’s cabinet, former levelling up secretary Simon Clarke and former environment secretary Ranil Jayawardena. Truss herself is a member but does not have a formal role in the organisation. Clarke also set up the ‘Next Generation Conservatives’ aimed at winning over younger voters by working on free market ideas.’
In July, amid reports that No 10 was in talks about making the scrapping of inheritance tax part of its manifesto pledge in an attempt, no doubt, to win over voters in the next general election, the Truss-supporting Express reported that ‘Sunak faces threat of new Tory revolt over inheritance tax with Liz Truss out for revenge.’ The newspaper described the group of low-tax Tories as ‘the biggest thorn in Rishi Sunak’s side,’ which has ‘swelled to a remarkable number.’ A source apparently told the Express that the Conservative Growth Group is a broad church that will “not agree on the minutia of all policy proposals, including prioritising inheritance tax cuts, but there’s an absolute necessity to keep pushing the low-tax agenda within the party.”
With membership growing and becoming more vocal, this right-wing tax cuts pressure group, which rose from the ashes of Truss’s tenure, and wants to focus on migration, law and order, and ‘woke’ issues, is likely to flex its muscle further in the wake of a Tory wipeout.
Another hint towards the internal chaos that is likely to unfold if the Tories are defeated at the next GE, can be traced back to five days in May when two very strange and unofficial conservative political conferences were held – two portals into potential Tory futures.
In London, the National Conservatives, who fight for reduced immigration, traditional values and a nativist self-sufficiency, held their own conference, where a right-wing panel comprising of the likes of Miriam Cates, Suella Braverman, and Jacob Rees-Mogg, extolled the importance of renewing the conservative tradition.
But as Will Lloyd, who attended the event, wrote for the New Statesman, “Their speeches, with the exception of Gove, were not about National Conservatism. They were doing spadework for the trenches of a post-Sunak war zone. The most explicit leadership bid was Braverman’s.”
Lloyd continued that he could not decide whether he was witnessing the final crack-up of British conservatism or the “birth of a new, harder-edged ideological programme that will dominate the party for years to come.”
The same week, a second gathering of a new right-wing populist movement emerging from a disorientated and discontented Tory party took place. Formed late last year by Brexiteers and Boris Johnson loyalists to ‘restore democracy’ after Sunak was appointed leader of the party, was the Conservative Democratic Organisation (CDO). Their gathering was held in Bournemouth, where delegates spent their time complaining about the Conservative
s Party and gushing over their version of Johnsonism (whatever that is). Speakers, ranging from Priti Patel to right-wing Twitter micro-celeb Sophie Corcoran, railed against fellow Tories. One speaker referred to an “enemy within” Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ), and that CCHQ had to be “taken back” by the members.
The Trussites, NatCons and CDOs share a number of commonalities, namely they were all born out of disquiet over the party’s current form and are inherently opposed to what they see as the establishment. The FT’s Robert Shrimsley writes: “[They] see the future of conservatism no longer as the defenders of the existing order but as Brexit radicals, scourge of the elites and globalists, the voice of a mythical middle England, the non-graduate rather than the graduate, the suburbs and towns over city dwellers.”
Rather than heal the divisions exposed by Brexit, these groupings are waiting to swoop to exploit it, says Shrimsley.
Which brings me on to one Brexiteer figure who managed to do more damage to the Tory Party than all the aforementioned groups put to together. That figure is, of course, Dominic Cummings.
In August, Cummings unveiled a project designed to kill off the Conservative Party. Cummings’ so-called ‘return’ excited commentariat, who spoke of Johnson’s former senior aide, the so-called ‘brainchild’ behind the Vote Leave campaign, “looking forward to a catastrophic result at the next general election” and thinking that this may be the best chance since the 1850s to “replace the Tories.”
“Dominic Cummings set to create new party to replace the ‘rotten Tory horrorshow’ and aims to take power in 2028,” gushed the Mail Online.
The excitement was ignited after Cummings had posted a series of blogs on Substack, alluding to the ‘StartUp Party’, which he wants to launch by Christmas. Holding no prisoners, he says Sunak has ‘effectively given up’ leading the country and had ‘wasted’ the Tories’ 80-seat majority from 2019. He continued that the subsequent ‘failures’ of the Labour leader Keir Starmer would leave open a ‘huge majority’ for someone to take power in 2028. He wrote:
‘Already I’m getting messages from MPs and donors “How do we rebuild the Party after the inevitable, can we have a quiet chat?”
‘Plough the old Tory Party into the earth with salt…. This is the time to start building the replacement so that from 2200 on election night in October-December 2024 the old Party is buried and a new set of people with new ideas start talking to the country and can take over in 2028 and give voters the sort of government they want and deserve,’ the former Vote Leave chief wrote.
The policies outlined by Cummings for his yet-to-be-formed party comprise of the predictable rightist aims, that is to be tougher on crime and illegal immigration, and to pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights, alongside a freeze on workers’ taxes.
Whether Cummings would have the backing to pull off a new party that would ‘plough the old Tory Party into earth with salt’ remains to be seen. But, in masterminding the successful Vote Leave campaign, he is certainly a political force that should not be overlooked. Nor should the Brexit party’s successor, Reform UK, who, like Cummings, is aimed at diverting a sufficient number of Tories to ensure the rout and subsequently forcing of a realignment of the Right.
But as Shrimsley seems to suggest in the FT, the obvious thing for the crazies to do is to take over the Tory Party rather than setting up a new outfit.
“The real battle to smash the old Conservative party will be fought from within. Taking over an existing party is a far more effective route,” he writes.
With its offshoot groups, the party is most of the way there already. The broader question is therefore: will it be the centrists or the extreme rightists who form the future of the Conservative Party? If the former, then the Tory Party would be more in tune with electorate sentiments and competing with a centrist Labour government. If the latter, then Tory oblivion is entirely possible. It is not crocodile tears that I shed at that prospect: democracy requires a fully functioning opposition, and the current Conservative Party is incapable of providing it.
Right-Wing Media Watch – Who were the media’s biggest mini-budget cheerleaders?
It’s exactly a year ago today, September 23, 2022, when Kwasi Kwarteng announced his mini-budget, which crashed the economy, adding billions to the national debt and thousands to people’s mortgages. Meanwhile, the cause of the carnage, still claims she was right and everyone else was wrong.
To mark the one-year anniversary, Right-Wing Media Watch takes a look at best headlines and comments that praised the disaster that was the Truss/Kwarteng mini-budget.
‘Kwasi Kwarteng delivers a genuine Tory Budget that spells the end of Treasury doomsters.’
This one takes some beating, coming, of course, from the Daily Mail. On the day the financial plans were announced, Alex Brummer, the Mail’s City editor wrote:
“The boldness and courage of Kwasi Kwarteng’s debut Budget is seismic. By taking a hatchet to taxes and placing growth front and centre of economic policy, the Chancellor has produced a genuine Tory package elbowing to one side the Treasury’s fiscal conservatism which restrained his predecessors.”
‘The best Budget I have ever heard a British Chancellor deliver, by a massive margin’
Allister Heath, editor of the Sunday Telegraph, whose columns are right up there with the best of the worse nonsensical right-wing rants (a recent column was headlined ‘The lunacy of climate change fanatics is driving humanity to extinction), pulled out a blinder in response to the mini-budget.
Welcoming the Chancellor’s announcement with unbridled enthusiasm, Heath wrote:
“This was the best Budget I have ever heard a British Chancellor deliver, by a massive margin. The tax cuts were so huge and bold, the language so extraordinary, that at times, listening to Kwasi Kwarteng, I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, that I hadn’t been transported to a distant land that actually believed in the economics of Milton Friedman and F A Hayek.”
‘Mini-budget WILL boost growth and everyone will benefit’
Naturally, the Truss-loving Express was keen to shower its support over the budget, and didn’t disappoint.
“Finally, we have a government with an economic vision…. After years of drift and indecision the new Prime Minister and Chancellor are united in their approach,” wrote economist Gerard Lyons.
No professional foresight then that the move would crash the economy, that the PM would sack Kwarteng just three weeks after the mini-budget and after only 38 days as Chancellor, and, six days after the sacking, resign?
“Today was the best Conservative budget since 1986”
Meanwhile Farage, who ALWAYS has to make some comment on the political drama of the day, probably through fear of becoming irrelevant, compared the budget with the income tax cut from 30 percent to 29 percent under Thatcher, saying: “Today was the best Conservative budget since 1986.” (Historical note: the 86 budget known as the Lawson budget, also cut inheritance tax far more than the penny cut in income tax, cut benefits and supposedly introduced ‘popular capitalism’ – whatever happened to that?)
You’d think, or perhaps hope, that these individuals would crawl under a rock in embarrassment, never to be seen or heard again.
Like Truss herself, shamelessness on a scale that makes Frank Gallagher from Shameless look decidedly reticent!
Woke bashing of the week – Voters – including Tory voters – call on Sunak to end his ‘war on woke’
Who can forget the deputy party chairman Lee Anderson saying that without ‘great ingredients’ like Corbyn and Brexit, the party should fight the election on ‘culture wars and trans debate?’
Well Anderson certainly isn’t known for his perspicacity, and what we all suspected was a load of baloney has now been confirmed – the public don’t buy into culture war issues. In fact, they’re put off by them.
A new survey of UK voters shows the vast majority believe the government’s intervention on issues like free speech in universities and trans’ rights, is a big no-no. Instead, they would prefer the government to concentrate on the things that matter, such as climate change, crime, and the cost of living.
The poll was commissioned by Byline Times. When asked if they agreed with the statement that ‘the government spends too much time talking about ‘woke’ issues such as trans rights and free speech and not enough time talking about issues I really care about’, 73% of voters said they agreed, including 80% of Conservative voters.
The poll explored voters’ thoughts on specific culture war examples, including the recent appointment of a “free speech tsar” charged with tackling so-called “cancel culture” in UK universities. 51 percent of respondents said they thought this was a waste of government resources and time, with just 21 percent disagreeing.
In relation to the government’s recent confirmation of measures to reverse the rise of gender-neutral toilets as part of a wider effort to protect single sex spaces, 53 percent of voters said the government should not be spending time on this issue, compared to just 31% who disagreed.
In January, the UK government decided to block a Scottish bill designed to make it easier for people to change their legal gender. And the decision seems to go against the wishes of voters. As the poll found when it comes to gender identity, 51 percent of voters believe people should have a legal right to change their data if they wish to do so. Just 29 percent disagree.
Conjuring up ever more culture wars, including blaming ‘woke’ health managers for the problems with the NHS, and deriding the civil service as “the blob” in an attempt to disguise their own failings, was bound to backfire for the Tories.
Michael Gove, who appears to be less in cuckoo land then many of his Conservative colleagues, got it right when he said the Tories need to recognise that elections are won on economics and public services rather than culture wars – the polar opposite to Anderson’s beliefs on what wins elections.
Yet another example of how bitterly divided those running the country really are. How can they possibly be taken seriously?
Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is author of Right-Wing Watch