Around 60 Conservative MPs have now signed up to Liz Truss’s pro-growth group of rebels demanding tax cuts – putting Rishi Sunak’s majority in parliament at risk.
The former prime minister drew a large crowd of Tory members at the party conference in Manchester on Monday as she pushed for tax cuts this year to “make Britain grow again”.
Ms Truss told the packed event that corporation tax should be slashed to 19 per cent as she urged members to “unleash their inner conservative”. She added: “Let’s stop taxing and banning things.”
Her close ally Ranil Jayawardena MP said the Conservative Growth Group, which had thought to number around 30, had grown to include 60 MPs – roughly the same size as Mr Sunak’s majority in the Commons.
Former home secretary Priti Patel, who joined the Truss rally on Monday along with Jacob Rees-Mogg, told delegates: “We cannot be timid any more, we cannot be risk averse and we cannot accept the status quo.”
Dozens of MPs have pledged to vote against chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement if he includes any new tax hikes. “I think it’s pretty unlikely that the chief whip will kick people out of the Conservative party if they stand by their pledge,” said ex-chairman Jake Berry – one of those who have signed it.
Warning that the tax rebels had significant clout, Mr Berry added: “There’s 33 who’ve signed already with more to come, and that’s more than half of the government’s majority.”
Ms Truss was courting the vast support among the party membership that selected her over Mr Sunak last summer, before a disastrous spree of unfunded tax cuts at the mini-Budget led to the chaotic implosion of her 49-day premiership.
Nigel Farage was also out in support of Ms Truss on Monday, saying he “absolutely 100%” believes in her. He warned Mr Sunak of the “rebellious mood” at the conference, adding: “What’s really happening this week is who and what takes over the party after we lose the next election.”
Other groups on the right of the party were also gathering momentum in Manchester, as the New Conservatives group led by Danny Kruger and Miriam Cates set out proposals to ban “gender ideology” being taught in schools at a standing room-only event.
Mr Sunak and his team made a pitch to the Tory right with plans to scale back HS2, slash the civil service and impose tougher benefits conditions as the threat presented by Ms Truss and others on the right appeared to grow.
Mr Hunt said there were no “short cuts” to tax cuts this year – but did not rule out the idea of introducing some at the spring Budget in 2024.
And the chancellor did make offerings that will go down well with the Truss-backing right of the party. He announced a cap on Whitehall hiring to save up to £1bn a year and ordered plans to shrink the number of officials. He pointed towards cutting back on officials working on “equality and diversity initiatives”.
Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect union, said: “We now have government ministers rushing out policies at Tory conference in a desperate attempt to shore up their own support from the hard right of their party,” he added.
Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union which represents senior civil servants, said the announcement was out of the playbook of Mr Rees-Mogg. He said the plan was “fantasy politics of the worst kind”.
Elsewhere at the conference, transport secretary Mark Harper said councils could be blocked from fining drivers, as he targeted the “sinister” idea of “15-minute cities”. He even claimed that local authorities wanted to regulate how often people could drive to the shops.
Business secretary Kemi Badenoch promised a review of regulators so “Brexit freedoms” can be used to reduce bureaucracy.
Culture secretary Lucy Frazer announced new guidance to ensure statues are explained rather than torn down following the toppling of the slave trader Edward Colston statue. And education secretary Gillian Keegan took on teaching unions by suggesting minimum service levels could be extended to university staff.
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