Tory chairman teases two tax-cutting events amid election warnings for Sunak

Richard Holden touted cuts in March and ‘more of that later in the year’.

Sam Blewett
Friday 26 January 2024 20:17 GMT
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faced another challenging week in No 10 (Darren Staples/PA)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faced another challenging week in No 10 (Darren Staples/PA) (PA Wire)

The Tory party chairman has suggested there could be two tax-cutting financial announcements this year as Rishi Sunak fights to keep his MPs on-side over fears he will lead them to defeat.

Richard Holden touted possible tax cuts in the March 6 Budget, adding that there will be “more of that later in the year as well” after a challenging week for the Prime Minister.

With the Conservatives trailing Labour in the polls by 20 points, former Cabinet minister Sir Simon Clarke said they face being electorally “massacred” if they do not oust Mr Sunak.

Will Dry, a former aide who conducted polling in No 10, said the country is “on course for at least a decade of Labour rule” as it emerged he had joined a rebel plot to topple the PM.

Mr Holden insisted the polls “can move quite rapidly” as he tried to reassure the party by promising crowd-pleasing tax cuts.

He told GB News: “What we are now in is a situation where we are coming out of that very tough period, and we’re able to outline our plans for the future.

“And I think the actual tax cut – you mentioned the national insurance cut for working people – is the start of that.

“We’ll see more of that in March, and more of that later in the year as well. We have that new direction of travel, which is clear.”

Tory aides, however, sought to downplay his comments, arguing he was trying to express positivity for March and beyond rather than hyping specific tax-cutting events.

A Conservative Party source said: “The party chairman was talking more broadly about the progress and direction of travel – the PM and Chancellor have already spoken about lowering taxes in a responsible way, where and when it’s sensible to do so.

“Any fiscal event is a decision for the Prime Minister.”

It is down to Mr Sunak to trigger the next election, but he has said that it is his “working assumption” that he will hold it in the second half of the year.

The latest turmoil for the Tory leader was triggered by a major opinion poll that put his party on course for a 1997-style wipeout.

Tory peer Lord David Frost used the YouGov research to argue that the Conservatives are “going to lose, and lose bad, unless we do something about it”.

The former Cabinet minister was named as the contact on the poll, but it was commissioned by a shadowy group calling itself the Conservative Britain Alliance.

As first reported by the Times, Lord Frost was warned he could be stripped of the Conservative whip as he refused to say who funded the poll.

The peer was said to have been “taken aback” by repeated challenging from the Conservative leader of the Lords, Lord True.

Lord Frost is understood to have been told he could lose the whip if he had worked with another party after being pressed on whether Reform UK stumped up the funds.

A source close to the peer said: “I can confirm the meeting took place but Lord Frost, even on background, won’t reveal the content of a private meeting. It’s not his style.”

Meanwhile, it was reported that senior Tory backbenchers including Harriet Baldwin have argued for a change in party rules that would make Mr Sunak’s position safer.

Currently 15% of Conservative MPs – currently 53 – need to send in letters to the 1922 Committee of backbenchers in order to trigger a vote of no confidence.

But there was talk the proportion could be hiked to 50%, meaning 175 MPs would have to officially register their disquiet.

Ms Baldwin, the chair of the Commons Treasury Committee, did not deny the move.

She said: “Call me old-fashioned, but I like to adhere to the privacy and discretion of the 1922 Committee as a forum for backbench colleagues to raise discussion points about topical matters.”

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