DIVISIONS among Conservatives first brought to the fore by the Tory leadership contest have resurfaced as a result of the major tax cuts in Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget.
In London, backbench MPs expressed concern that the cuts – which will benefit the wealthiest people in the UK – will be “politically toxic and economically dubious”.
“I’ve never known a government that has had so little support from its own backbenches, just four sitting days in,” one backbencher told The Guardian following the Chancellor’s statement.
The discomfort among some Conservatives was apparent as Kwarteng took questions on the measures, with some making their hostility to the proposals clear.
Mel Stride, former campaign manager for leadership contender Rishi Sunak, said there was a “vast void” in Kwarteng’s plans as the pound plunged.
In Scotland, Douglas Ross’s Tory team is not immune from the Truss/Sunak split.
On Saturday, a two-month old clip of West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine MP Andrew Bowie describing immediate tax cuts as “reckless” resurfaced on social media.
Bowie, who had been a prominent Sunak supporter and chairs the Conservative Union Research Unit, warned in an interview with the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland that Truss’s tax-slashing plan would see younger generations “lumbered” with debt.
“I think it would be reckless, actually, if we were go into the next couple of years pledging to cut taxes straight away,” he said in July.
“[Sunak has] got a sound economic plan … and I hope people listen to that and realise he has a true Conservative plan not to lumber future generations with borrowing and debt incurred on them because of our desire to cut taxes now. That’s taking a pragmatic sensible approach, getting the economy under control and then of course we want to cut taxes.”
Just a few weeks later, the former Tory Party vice-chair appears less-than-enthusiastic about the Chancellor’s Growth Plan. He put out a mealy-mouthed statement on Friday night.
“There is a lot in it that I support”, he said, suggesting investment zones should be rolled out in Scotland.
“The changes to Stamp Duty are good and again, would be great to see replicated by the Scottish Government …”
“And the support for people with their energy bills is, of course, welcome,” he added.
Meanwhile Bowie’s party leader Douglas Ross is demanding that the Scottish Government replicate the tax cutting measures north of the Border.
Kirsty Blackman (below), SNP MP for Aberdeen North, said it was telling that Tory MPs are aware of the problems in the latest fiscal announcement.
“Liz Truss’s government’s ‘mini budget’ is not only blatantly robbing the poor to pay the rich but their reckless right-wing announcements have sent the UK into a financial crisis the likes of which we’ve not seen for decades,” she told The National. “People across the country know it, experts know it and even Tory MPs, like Andrew Bowie, know it – it’s a disgrace that he is willing to stand back and let it happen.
“Whilst ordinary families are being left to suffer the Tory-made cost of living crisis and the doubling of energy prices – pushing millions of families into further hardship – the Tory Chancellor has dished out multi-billion pound tax breaks for the super rich and big business which has thrown our economy into chaos.”
Meanwhile, Alba leader Alex Salmond told The National it was no surprise that Truss’s Growth Plan is unpopular.
“The Truss hard-right economic plan to redistribute wealth from the have-nots to the haves is opposed by the vast majority of people in Scotland including by some Tory MPs and MSPs,” he said.
“The Scottish Government must commit every penny from the Barnett Consequentials to protect the lowest-income families and most vulnerable by increasing the Scottish Child Payment and the funds to tackle fuel poverty.”
It has been reported that those who supported Sunak could boycott the Tory conference next weekend to express their frustration with Truss – who was quick to oust most Sunak backers from the Cabinet when she became PM.
A number of Scottish Tories backed Sunak and his pledge for sound money during the summer, with MP John Lamont, and MSPs Jackson Carlaw, Maurice Golden, Jeremy Balfour, Miles Briggs, Donald Cameron, Alexander Stewart and Liz Smith among them. It remains to be seen how they will convincingly sell a tax-cutting policy they effectively campaigned against to the public.
“Disaster after disaster”
The economic split comes after a difficult few weeks for Ross. Since returning to Holyrood after the summer recess, MSP Oliver Mundell has resigned from his front bench and Dean Lockhart has quit the Parliament altogether in favour of a job in the private sector.
The Scottish Greens said the Moray MP is facing “disaster after disaster” after an exodus of behind-the-scenes staff resulted in a number of job vacancies.
His chief of staff Jon Novakovic is set to leave his role in October while David Bateman, the director of communications, and Harley Lothian, head of digital, will leave Ross’s team in a few weeks.
A new staffer hired last week, Craig Paterson, had to be sacked before taking up his new role as the Tories claimed he falsified part of his CV allegedly stating he worked for former Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy.
A spokesperson for the Greens said: “It’s no wonder that so many of his closest aides have been resigning when he couldn’t even bring himself to decide whether or not Boris Johnson was fit to be PM.”
“He may be excited about the growing number of vacancies in Tory HQ though, it’s clear that one job has never been enough and now he has the chance to add even more to his CV.”