There’s a new phenomenon sweeping the SW1 scene: the “alternative budget” — a financial plan produced by certain disenfranchised factions and designed, at once, to focus minds on a chosen topic in government and stand in while opponents push forward with their own proposals.
The “alternative budget” track was of course blazed by none other than Liz Truss. The former Prime minister is not one to shirk the opportunity for financial innovation, and in October it was reported that, working indirectly through her Growth Commission think tank, she would develop a series of fiscal proposals to compete with the government’s own.
With the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement scheduled to deliver tomorrow, Trussite MPs made good on their promise to the ever-grateful nation and unveiled a plan to reverse the “recession” in the UK economy last week. Truss, the group’s nominal convener, was among those who attended the launch of the Growth Budget, along with her close allies Jacob Rees-Mogg, her former business secretary, and Lord Frost, who was previously Boris Johnson’s Brexit negotiator.
Among the measures proposed by the committee are reducing corporate tax from 25 percent to 15 percent and unfreezing tax exemptions. The group says its proposals could boost GDP by 23 per cent and household incomes by £26,000 by 2044.
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However, Truss’s Growth Committee remains an intriguing collective. The former Prime Minister is not a member herself, but her intellectual patronage is keenly felt, both in terms of personnel and policy. For example, Julian Jessop, high priest of Trusonomics and fellow of the Institute of Economic Affairs, was among the free marketeers gathered. The group also boasts a tangible transatlantic slant, as it includes American economists primarily associated with the libertarian Mercatus Center.
On the one hand, the Growth Commission represents a retreat of trosonomics into its intellectual and institutional abode: the world of secret policy institutes and think tanks. The flickering flame of the free market needs nurturing, Truss has long figured — after she did such damage to her cause last year. Therefore, the Committee aims to act as a kind of cocoon chamber, where the messages of British libertarianism will be protected, refined and eventually brought back into mainstream thought.
In its free market campaign, the Commission is supported by its de facto sister organisation, the Conservative Growth Group. The Conservative Growth Group is a parliamentary caucus chaired by former Environment Minister Ranil Jayawardena, but again convened by the former Prime Minister. The Caucus, which has the support of around 60 Members of Parliament, is therefore expected to take up the Commission’s policy presentation in the coming weeks.
But the group faces stiff competition within the parliamentary Conservative Party, including from their most prominent party rivals: the One Nation Conservatives.
In fact, these much-maligned Fifth Column writers, who have been accused of leading successive coups in the past year, have their own financial plan – leaning heavily into Liz Truss’s Playbook of Strategy with obvious apostasy.
Yesterday, the caucus, chaired by Theresa May’s former de facto deputy prime minister, Damian Green, published its own set of policies in an attempt to drag the party back to the centre. Among the proposals are ideas for a tax on second homes not registered as such or available for rent, which would facilitate the construction of housing above railway stations; and allowing first-time buyers to use their pension funds for a deposit.
The group’s new document said the plan “will help the government regain the support of millions of voters who are undecided about the next election but have supported the Conservative Party since 2010.”
Stephen Hammond, MP for Wimbledon and member of the One Nation group, later told… times“We have been quiet for too long, and these ideas are the new beginning of renewal in our caucus.”
This is, in essence, the One Nation conservative group saying silence loudly. Like Labour’s increasingly isolated ‘soft left’, pan-nationalism constitutes a nominal ‘faction’, but has moved far away from ‘factionalism’ in zeal. They are “wet” in name, and usually wet in nature.
But the group seems to have concluded that relative collective calm has taken place in recent years – with shortlisted opponents coalescing in the European Research Group (ERG), the Nordic Research Group (NRG), the neocons, and the Common Sense Group (CSG), the Net Zero Scrutiny Group ( NZSG) and now the Conservative Growth Group (CGG) – have turned the political tide against them. In fact, before Hammond’s tour of self-reflection yesterday, Damian Green had already argued in an article for times Last September: “Maybe we’ve been too quiet for too long.”
Thus, the “alternative budget” is a direct result of the group’s new desire to show off its parliamentary muscles. And this is not an isolated example: Last week, Greene compared the “Plan B” tests conducted by former Interior Secretary Suella Courageousrman in Rwanda to those outlined in the “Plan B” report in Rwanda. telegraphTo “what Putin and Xi are doing.”
If we look at the former First Foreign Secretary’s media tour ahead of the Autumn Statement, it provided him with a forum to intensify his attacks on his right-wing party colleagues. He even urged the government not to take a “full-scale” approach to the small boat crisis; Green prefers a more measured, “semi-skimmed” strategy. The United Nations appears to be rising – slowly and supported by tortured metaphor – to the squabble between conservative factions.
Step back, and this debate leading up to the Autumn Statement, with moderates and right-wingers grappling with their alternative budgets, illustrates Rishi Sunak’s ongoing party management troubles. As One Nation conservatives rediscover their confidence, the problems the Prime Minister faces in and around his party look set to worsen.
What is more, the clear entry of One Nation conservatives into the intra-party debate has symbolic importance. Because it was this broad group of moderate MPs – many more than Courageousrman’s supporters who stood behind Sunak after endorsing her in October – that enabled him to become prime minister.
But since then, the Prime Minister has appeared to abandon the vision of his parliamentary sponsors. Indeed, despite Lord Cameron’s promotion of Chipping Norton last week, the Prime Minister has chosen to stand by his party in moments of mounting pressure. Sunak’s speech yesterday, which hinted at upcoming tax cuts, may be the latest example of this.
These “alternative budgets” therefore speak to a well-rehearsed truth: that Sunak is ideologically unentrenched in his party and has no factional underpinning among his backbench. He is trapped between competing visions, between “right-wing” and “moderate” elements, as he struggles to refine his own vision of the party. Perhaps the two major events that took place last week, with the appointment of David Cameron as Foreign Secretary and the subsequent reaction to the Rwandan Supreme Court ruling, speak more to this dire dynamic.
The Prime Minister thus appears trapped in his own party, unwilling to fully embrace one part of the factional Conservative fabric. And all the while, the rear groups maneuver – sometimes in the background and sometimes in the foreground – with one eye, of course, on a potential competition for leadership.
Josh Self is editor of Politics.co.uk, follow him on Twitter here.
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