Tories brace for ‘rocky’ party conference as members condemn ‘wrong’ tax cuts

Conservative Party members have condemned Liz Truss’s tax-cutting mini-budget, with several accusing the Prime Minister of not prioritising the right policies and possibly jeopardising the party’s electoral chances.

On Sunday morning, the Tory faithful started gathering at Birmingham’s International Convention Centre for the party’s annual conference against a highly challenging economic backdrop.

At the end of last month, Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s financial statement spooked the markets, sent the pound plummeting, and forced a £65 billion intervention by the Bank of England to restore order.

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The Prime Minister now faces a difficult task in reassuring Tory members in Birmingham, with several saying that the tax cuts she is implementing are “wrong”.

Prime Minister Liz Truss on the first day of the Conservative Party Conference
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Simon Poole, from Newcastle, a Tory member since 2019, said it is a “possibility” that Ms Truss may have damaged the party’s chances at the next general election.

He argued that the policies announced in the mini-budget are “divisive” and should have not been announced now.

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He added: “I probably do agree with the policies, but it just doesn’t look good. I’m not sure there is sufficient time for those announcements to really start to show. Those sort of policies would normally be announced at the beginning of a five-year Parliament, and I’m not sure that 18 months is long enough.”

On whether Ms Truss may have marred the party’s electoral chances, he said: “I think that is a possibility.”

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Newcastle-under-Lyme Conservative councillor David Hutchison echoed Mr Poole’s comments, saying the mini-budget “just gives money to people who don’t particularly need it”.

On the abolition of the 45% tax rate on earnings over £150,000, he said: “I just think it was the wrong thing to do, especially during the cost-of-living crisis. More help for people, for the working person, not the person earning more than £150,000.”

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Mr Hutchison also insisted he would vote for Conservative former prime minister Boris Johnson if he ran in another leadership contest and noted that he only voted for Ms Truss as “anybody but Rishi (Sunak) I would have voted for”.

Scott Wilson, 18, from Maldon Conservative Association in Essex, said a Labour majority of only 20 or 30 would be a “good result” at the next general election.

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“I mean, if I say the only reason I am here is because I am on a student’s budget and I already paid for the accommodation and tickets, I think that sort of sums it up really. It doesn’t look good”, he said.

The Aberystwyth University student added: “We were just discussing how if in the next general election we limit it to a 20- or 30-seat Labour majority, that would be a good result at this point.

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“I think Truss has planted a seed in the voters’ minds that Conservatives aren’t responsible on the economy.”

Mr Wilson praised measures to freeze alcohol duty but added: “I think, on the whole, I liked the idea of tax cuts, but they were the wrong tax cuts.”

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Daniel Pitt, from Erewash, a Conservative Party member for seven years, insisted it is going to be a “rocky” conference and said he would have preferred a bigger reduction in the basic income tax rate.

He said: “The policies on the whole, you could argue, are a good thing. But the timing was wrong. I would have different priorities. I would have preferred a bigger reduction in tax in the basic income. If you’re taking 5% off the top, but 1% off the basic, that doesn’t add up as far as I’m concerned.

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“And also these should be done sequentially. And I think reducing the top rate of tax during the cost of living (crisis) is not the right priority.”

Mr Pitt, also a Boris Johnson supporter, insisted there should have not been a leadership contest.

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“I don’t think there should have been a leadership election full stop. I decided who I was going to vote for when we had the final two, and it just wasn’t going to be Rishi.

“It’s a Thatcher moment. Lots of people are still angry about getting rid of Boris,” he said.

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However, some Tory members decided to sit on the fence and give the new Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt.

Lars Swann, chairman of Windsor Conservative Association, said: “I am happy to support her at the moment, but it is kind of wait and see, it is too early to tell where she is going.”

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The 51-year-old accountant added that he is feeling “fairly optimistic” about the tax cuts set out in the fiscal event.

“I wasn’t overly keen on the 45% reduction in tax,” he said, “but then I am not affected by it.

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“I just thought it was unnecessary. It was an unnecessary move and doesn’t necessarily raise a huge amount of money.”

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