Conservative Growth Group Is Working To "Unite The Right"
Liz Truss, Ranil Jayawardena, Priti Patel and Jacob Rees Mogg at the former prime minister's 'growth rally' at Conservative party conference. (Alamy)
Leading figures in the Conservative Growth Group (CGG), a free market-favouring faction within the Tory Party, will place a renewed focus on uniting MPs on the right to increase pressure on the Government and bolster support for its ideas ahead of the election.
Launched in the wake of Liz Truss’s downfall as prime minister after 49 days in office last year, the influential caucus, chaired by Conservative MP for North East Hampshire Ranil Jayawardena, advocates for a smaller state and urges Government to reduce taxes, both of which were core to Truss’ ideology.
The group of backbench Tories has more than 60 MPs signed up, and its membership continues to grow. Its driving focus is on promoting free market ideas, such as liberalising the planning system and cutting taxes rather than to try to propel a leading figure into power. Prominent MPs in the group include Jayawardena as well as Simon Clarke, and Priti Patel. Yet with taxes at a record high, and resistance to planning reform rife among Tory MPs, the CGG faces a difficult task.
A Senior Conservative MP told PoliticsHome they are keen to portray the group as part of the “reasonable right” in the coming months.
The CGG hoped its efforts to compromise and work with the Government – such as backing its contentious Rwanda Bill earlier this month – would prove this point to the wider parliamentary party. The move was in contrast with other major groups within the Conservative Party, such as the European Research Group (ERG), the New Conservatives, Common Sense Group, and Northern Research Group, which worked as a coalition to undermine Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and by abstaining on the Rwanda Bill.
Jayawardena told PoliticsHome the majority of MPs in the party believe in core conservative values such as “cutting taxes and [the] state”, meaning they should be naturally aligned with the aims of the CGG. But issues like immigration have demonstrated major splits on the right of the party.
The New Conservatives, co-chaired by Danny Kruger and Miriam Cates, consider themselves to be culturally conservative, and are determined to drastically reduce immigration. Whereas economic liberals such as those in the CGG are more relaxed on about migration as a means for economic growth. During her short time in No 10, Truss planned to loosen immigration controls, which she believed would fill many of the UK's job vacancies and stimulate the economy. CGG MPs are keen to overcome these differences and focus on shared beliefs within the party.
The CGG could be in a good position in the New Year to hoover up more support from other groups such as the ERG, which was created to scrutinise Brexit negotiations and is now seeing its influence wane. Earlier this year, just 22 Conservative MPs voted against Sunak’s Windsor Framework to amend the Northern Ireland Brexit protocol, despite the ERG’s criticisms of the deal.
“[It] just isn’t quite [the ERG’s] time anymore,” said a minister on the right of the party. “Time just passed, and moving into other issues isn’t the same.”
One key area the CGG’s chair Jayawardena is keen to focus on in the new year is putting housebuilding further up the Government’s agenda.
Jayawardena told PoliticsHome that while Housing Secretary, Michael Gove, had made “positive noises” on building more homes in big cities such as London, it was essential that Tory MPs avoided being divided on the issue as legislation moves through parliament.
"It's so complicated to do anything anywhere, but if [Gove] was to concentrate on making a Development Order for London, this would secure real change,” Jayawardena said.
"It’s important not to fight on more than one front at this point in a Parliament, and there’s no need to – London will drive economic growth and encourage other cities such as Manchester and Birmingham to grow too.”
Another member of the CGG told PoliticsHome issues such as Rwanda were important for the public, but felt liberalising planning laws – which impact UK housebuilding, energy infrastructure, and construction – should be of much greater priority for creating economic growth.
A former cabinet minister said the group's challenge for 2024 was to ensure they managed to push supply side measures such as planning reform through the Commons. They noted that parliamentary discipline was one of the main challenges both the group and party faced.
“We are entering the final year in Parliament – and we need to do something on housing and we want to get young people on the housing ladder,” the former cabinet minister said.
A CGG MP said the group’s emphasis on housebuilding could concentrate on cities where they face lower electoral threat.
“How many Tory MPs are in London? It's a very good move to concentrate on inner London,” they explained. "We need to make sure we do not give everyone the jitters now."
Other MPs in the CGG are keen to focus on issues which impact business and individual taxation. PoliticsHome understands the group will be publishing a paper on infrastructure in the new year.
The CGG has called for cutting council tax in areas which build new homes, and scrapping inheritance tax altogether.
Former home secretary Priti Patel, who is a member of the group, told PoliticsHome she intends to pressure Government on a programme of “economic reforms” in 2024.
“Our approach to the economy must change, and Britain needs a new and ambitious programme of economic reforms that will boost economic growth, jobs and wages,” she said.
“As Conservatives we know that economic growth is secured by the investment and ingenuity of private enterprise which is why the Growth Commission is developing proposals that will increase economic freedoms, cut the tax burden and empower businesses to grow our economy.”
But despite optimism among CGG members, Conservative MPs in general seem less enthusiastic about the coming year.
Another former cabinet minister, who served under Truss, said they were not hopeful about Government adopting pro-growth policies promoted by the CGG. “We need to build houses, unless the government makes a massive U-turn they will not do that,” they said. .
The MP criticised the government's decision to cut National Insurance in the Autumn Statement, as they believed it would not be enough to shift the polls.
“Cutting National Insurance is something to do five points ahead in the polls, not 20 points behind,” they said. “We need to do something more radical when we are this far behind.”
A general election must be called before the end of 2024, and polls currently suggest the Conservatives could be facing wipeout. The next 12 months will be crucial for Tories to make their case to the public and minimise the damage, while MPs in the CGG fight for the soul of the party.
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