Tories on verge of civil war over 45p tax rate, benefits uprating and ‘coup’ allegations - long read analysis

Photo: Kim Mogg/NationalWorld
Party conference has been marred with open calls for rebellion, clashes over policy and even suggestions that MPs could look to remove Liz Truss from office

The Conservative Party risks descending into all-out civil war at its annual conference as cabinet members and senior figures criticise decisions taken by Liz Truss and the Chancellor.

A number of MPs have spoken out publicly against reported plans not to uprate benefits in line with inflation, while the Home Secretary and others have hit back at colleagues who threatened to rebel over the 45p tax-rate cut.

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Suelle Braverman accused those who spoke out against the tax cut of carrying out a ‘coup’ against Truss, while Nadine Dorries, who backed Truss for leader, has made a number of comments which suggest she thinks the PM should call an early election.

Conservative conference goes into its final day today, with Truss expected to address the main hall at just after 11am.

‘We have no mandate to do this’

Liz Truss has been criticised by a figure who was central in putting together the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto for deviating significantly from many of the policy positions it put forward.

Speaking at a fringe event at party conference on Monday, Rachel Wolf of Public First said she felt it was unlikely the Conservatives would win the next election and said while Truss won the leadership contest in part due to perceived loyalty to Boris Johnson, she has deviated significantly from his policy platform without a new mandate.

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On Monday, responding to this criticism, Nadine Dorries tweeted: “Widespread dismay at the fact that 3 years of work has effectively been put on hold. No one asked for this. C4 sale, online safety, BBC licence fee review - all signed off by cabinet all ready to go, all stopped. If Liz wants a whole new mandate, she must take to the country.

While Dorries said the following day on LBC Radio that she was not calling for an early election, later tweets have also been taken to suggest she is unhappy with Truss’ deviations from the policies put forward at the last election.

Responding to an interview in which Truss said that all areas of government policy could be up for review, Dorries said: “We have no mandate from the people to do this. Conservative Gov [was] elected on [the] basis of a manifesto, it’s how democracy works. People voted in ‘19 on the policy promises we made (and for Boris). If we don’t want to deliver on the deal, the promises, we need a fresh mandate.”

Dorries, a loyal supporter of Boris Johnson who has criticised the decision by MPs to force the former PM out with a vote of no confidence, is thought likely to be leaving Parliament at the next election to take up a seat in the House of Lords.

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“Conservative MPs removed the PM people wanted and voted for with a stonking big majority less than three years ago. We can’t remove the policies too! That’s just not how our unwritten constitution/democracy works or the example [the UK] should set to the rest of the free world.”

‘Benefits Street culture is a feature of modern Britain’

Following reports in recent days that ministers are considering raising benefits by average earnings instead of the rate of inflation, despite a pledge by then-Chancellor Rishi Sunak back in May, there has been speculation that the Treasury and DWP are in conflict over the issue.

Chloe Smith, DWP minister refused to say whether benefits would be uprated, but said “what we need to do, of course, is first of all protect the most vulnerable, and I think that’s critical.”

In a striking act of open rebellion at what is thought to be Truss’ preferred position, cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt came out firmly against the real-terms cut.

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She told Times Radio that she has always supported welfare payments keeping pace with inflation.

She said: “It makes sense to do so. That’s what I voted for before.”

However, Penny Mordaunt’s voting record shows she has a mixed record on this issue.

In 2013, she voted in favour of capping an increase in benefit payments and tax credits at 1%, rather than at 2.2% in line with inflation, for the following two years.

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She told Times Radio yesterday: “We want to make sure that people are looked after and that people can pay their bills. We are not about trying to help people with one hand and take away with another.”

In a display of the broad support from all wings of the party for uprating benefits in line with inflation in the current climate, figures from the opposite end of the party to Mordaunt weighed in behind her yesterday.

Lord Frost, a longtime ally of Boris Johnson and keen Brexiteer, told GB News: “I’m going to say something which I don’t say very often, which is I agree with Penny Mordaunt and I think she’s got this right.

“The government made a commitment to uprate benefits. It shouldn’t take on battles it can’t win. People feel insecure going into the Autumn and I think it should stick to this commitment.”

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Their comments came in stark contrast to those of the Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who said she was not in favour of raising benefits, and criticised what she described as a “Benefits Street” culture.

“I think we have far too many people in this country who are fit to work and are able to work and should be working, and they choose to top up their salaries with tax credits or the Benefits Street culture I think is still a feature of modern Britain,” she said at a panel event.

By definition, anyone who tops up their salary with either Universal Credit or tax credits is in work.

DWP statistics show that a significant majority of people claiming Universal Credit are either in work or currently have no requirement to look for work due to health issues or care requirements.

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‘A way would be found’ to remove Truss from office

In what some have taken as a barbed criticism of Truss and Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng over the U-turn on cutting the 45p additional tax rate, Braverman, a former leadership contender, said she was in favour of scrapping the 45p rate and “disappointed by the subsequent reversal of the policy”.

She added: “I am disappointed that members of our party staged a coup and undermined the PM in an unprofessional way.”

A number of MPs both publicly and privately said they would not vote through the policy, forcing the PM and chancellor into a U-turn just days after the policy was announced in the mini-budget.

On Twitter, levelling up secretary Simon Clarke responded to reporting of Braverman’s comments, saying the Home Secretary “speaks a lot of good sense, as usual”.

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It is unclear whether he was referring specifically to the reversal of the 45p tax rate cut, the criticism of MPs who pushed for it, or both.

Another former leadership contender and current cabinet minister Kemi Badenoch criticised Braverman’s description of the internal opposition to scrapping of the 45p tax as a “coup”.

She said: “I don’t think we should be talking about coups. I think that sort of language is just too inflammatory.”

Braverman’s language also sparked criticism from veteran backbench Conservative Sir Roger Gale, who took the unusual step of launching a series of attacks against the senior cabinet member on Twitter last night.

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He wrote: “Braverman is wildly wrong to suggest a ‘coup’ against the PM. Time that Mrs Truss started listening to those of goodwill who are telling her what she needs to hear rather than apparatchiks who tell her what she wants to hear.”

Gale also took aim at the Home Secretary over her speech to party conference, in which the former attorney general decried lawyers and the Human Rights Act, and described the grooming gang scandal as “what happens when political correctness becomes more important than criminal justice”.

Braverman was widely criticised for saying during a panel earlier in the day that it would be her “dream” to see asylum seekers deported to Rwanda soon, as she promised a crackdown on those crossing the channel in order to claim asylum, which could put the UK in breach of international law.

Sir Roger said the speech was a “dog-whistle response to illegal immigration,” which “may play well at party conference”.

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He added: “But what is needed is a mature and realistic response to a very real international problem not a childish re-write of failed Ukip soundbites.”

As polling has shown Labour taking an almost-unprecedented lead over the Conservatives, there have been suggestions that MPs could seek to remove Truss from power after less than two months.

There have been reports that more than a dozen letters of no confidence have already been sent to the chairman of the 1922 committee, while a former cabinet minister told Times Radio that Truss has less than two weeks to reverse her fortunes.

Grant Shapps told Times Radio: “I don’t think members of parliament, Conservatives, if they see the polls continue as they are, are going to sit on their hands. A way would be found to make that change.”

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