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A number of leading Tories have admitted they believe the party could lose the next election as the Conservative Party Conference got underway in Birmingham on Sunday following a week of economic chaos.
A former deputy prime minister, co-author of the party’s 2019 manifesto and a leading pollster are among those who have made the bombshell suggestion as the party faced some of their worst polling in decades.
Damian Green, who effectively served as Theresa May’s deputy in 2017, told a conference fringe event that the Tories will lose the next general election if “we end up painting ourselves as the party of the rich”.
“I’ve been coming to party conference since the early 1980s so I’ve arrived at party conference in a mood of much gloom many times, frankly, in more than 40 years,” he told a meeting of the influential Tory Reform Group and One Nation Caucus on Sunday.
The event was unusually attended by only a few MPs as many stayed away from party conference after Kwasi Kwarteng’s sweeping tax reforms led to the collapse of the pound and questions over Liz Truss’s suitability as leader less than a month into her premiership.
“This one is more difficult than many,” he continued.
“Very clearly there are conversations that need to be had over the direction of Government as we move between now and the general election.”
Green said the Conservatives must represent helping people make the most of their lives, regardless of their backgrounds.
“Apart from the fact I think it’s morally right, I also think it’s a political no-brainer that if we end up painting ourselves as the party of the rich and the party of the already successful then, funnily enough, most people won’t vote for us and we lose,” he said.
Kwarteng’s fiscal event last Friday – which included the announcement that the Government will abolish the top rate of 45p income tax – provoked backlash from a number within the party.
Former cabinet minister Michael Gove, who did not back Truss to become leader, said on Sunday morning that it would be “very very difficult” to argue for public spending cuts to welfare while slashing tax for the country’s richest.
But Truss this morning continued to defend the mini-Budget, telling the BBC she was “confident” it would bring about economic growth, despite having triggered a significant drop in the value of the pound against the dollar.
I understand how worried people are feeling and the difficult times we face.
— Liz Truss (@trussliz) October 2, 2022
Echoing Green, pollster James Johnston, who worked in Downing Street under Theresa May, said that the events following Truss and Kwarteng’s fiscal announcements had made it unlikely the party would win the next election.
Speaking at an event hosted by the Centre for Policy Studies think tank, Johnson, who now works at JL Partners, said: “Can the Tories win the next election? Given the events of the last week, the structural numbers, the views of those swing voters, and the loss of the economic advantage, it’s very hard to see how.”
He said that even up until the dramatic collapse of the pound, there was “still a very clear path for the Conservatives” to win the next election, despite Truss’ underwhelming personal ratings upon arriving in 10 Downing Street at the start of last month.
He believed since Kwarteng’s House of Commons statement and the subsequent turmoil, something “very big” has happened in that the Tories have lost their reputation for economic competence.
“The lesson of the last few days is when economic competence goes, the Conservative party losing its advantage,” he warned.
There were similar sentiments from political consultant Rachel Wolf, who co-authored the Conservative party’s successful 2019 general election manifesto. She told the same event that it was “very unlikely” that the Tories would win the next election.
“The short answer is I don’t think they can,” she said.
Wolf said the Truss government had “rejected everything” that her predecessor Boris Johnson campaigned on at the last general election, warning that the general public would not agree with a programme of tax cuts for the wealthy and public spending cuts.
Elsewhere, Gove evoked the successes of the former Prime Minister, when he made clear his belief that the party’s 80-seat majority in 2019 was a “one-nation” victory, driven be people who want to see a “compassionate one-nation Conservative government,” as he urged colleagues to “stay true to that tradition”.
“One of the things that I very strongly believe is that the majority that Boris won in 2019, was a one-nation majority,” he told the Telegraph’s Chopper’s Politics Live.
“People wanted Brexit done, but they also wanted levelling-up, they wanted a Conservative government that was dedicated to improving the lives of those who hadn’t necessarily been traditional Conservative voters, and certainly weren’t amongst the wealthiest in our society.
“We’ve got to, I think, stay true to that tradition, and recognise that the people who lent us their vote in 2019 wanted to see a Compassionate One Nation, Conservative government and that was what Boris was arguing”.
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