Given the tumultuous start her time in office has had, the Tory party conference was Truss’ perfect opportunity to restore some faith in her abilities, if not from the country then at least within her party. But it appears she has achieved quite the opposite. From cold feet regarding the 45% tax rate cuts, to a young Tory representative banished from Birmingham, the conference was permeated with distaste and disaster.
On the conference’s second day (October 3), news broke that Truss and Kwarteng were planning a U-turn on their planned abolition of the 45% tax rate for top earners, a notably tone-deaf move amidst the current cost of living crisis. This U-turn was even more embarrassing for Truss, considering she defended the cut the day before, stating it would “generate growth and simplify the tax system”.
The proposed tax cut was set to relieve “pressure” on those earning £150,000 or more, and although it was not directly said, the policy was a clear return to trickle-down economics.
The tax cut wasn’t the only thing that caused chaos in Kwarteng’s mini-budget. Whilst Truss dodged questions regarding plans not to increase benefits in line with soaring inflation rates, further fallout included the pound’s plummet to a 37-year low. Faith in the government’s ability to contain and pay back the debt that is to be accumulated by the plan is non-existent, and forced intervention from the Bank of England to tackle inflation means interest is now standing at 2.25%, it’s seventh increase in less than a year.
The announcement of this detrimental budget saw mortgage rates rise, with the average two-year mortgage deal now 5.75% higher than the day the budget was announced. Devastatingly, almost 2 million homeowners are already seeing immediate increases to their bills. Lenders are pulling deals from shelves, and homeowners are scrambling to exit their terms early.
Then came the rumours of no confidence submissions from within the party. Heavyweights such as Michael Gove outwardly opposed the tax cut calling it “problematic” and a “wrong display of values”, thus, tarnishing the Conservatives’ desired image of a strong and stable government.
Kwarteng took to the stage on the Monday following the announcement. He sheepishly admitted he was aware his budget had caused “a little turbulence”, a strange way of saying he succeeded in causing complete upheaval, panic, and distress across the UK markets and amongst the public. In attempts to convince us the weight of the situation was minimal; Kwarteng shrugged the matter off lightly in a tweet prior to his speech. With an air of exasperation at the response, Kwarteng wrote “we get it, and we have listened” deeming the proposed tax cut had become a “distraction” from their true mission, that magic word we keep hearing: growth.
Since the conference, Kwarteng has now brought forward the announcement of his fiscal plan to October 3, as the Bank of England prepares to follow with a new set of announcements on interest rates on November 3.
Despite the blunders coming from senior members of the government, perhaps the younger party members could turn things around? There were expectations that they would be on their best behaviour to make Tory values appear attractive, and provide a fresher, more down to earth perspective. Perhaps the young Tories could even instil a bit of hope in the party’s ability to be compassionate and inclusive during these troublesome times? Wrong.
In line with the bruising of the party’s already faltering reputation, the Chairman of the Young Conservatives, Daniel Grainger, announced his arrival on the eve of the conference with a simple tweet: “Birmingham is a dump”. The comment sparked a swift response from fellow Tory and West Midlands Mayor Andy Street. The Mayor, well into his second term, tweeted in response: “Off you pop then, and take anyone with the same views with you”.
Enjoying the drama from the side-lines, Labour MP for Birmingham and Yardley, Jess Phillips, quipped “I see the Tories doing their best to endear themselves”.
It would not be a true Conservative affair without allegations of misconduct now, would it? Shortly after the end of the conference, whispers began to emerge about allegations of misconduct involving Trade Minister Connor Burns’ behaviour. Number 10 have since released the statement “following a complaint of serious misconduct, the Prime Minister has asked Conor Burns MP to leave the government with immediate effect”.
An investigation into the claim ensued, with Burns immediately taking to twitter to defend his name. However, former Spice Girl Melanie B, who attended the conference to campaign for domestic abuse survivors, has spoken out against Burns. The singer claimed he made a distasteful remark towards her in a lift, rebutting the claim that he never met her.
It’s not looking great for Liz, particularly considering this drama unfolding in the wake of Labour’s united and energised party conference which occurred in late September. With opinion polls suggesting strength for the opposition is rising day by day, coupled with the inner party divisions and the collapse of the Conservatives’ image of a fiscally responsible party, the future of this government is looking bleak.