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Tory MPs Urge Rishi Sunak To Show "Imagination" As Party Shows Little Sign Of Recovery

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak leaving 10 Downing Street (Alamy)

4 min read

Restless Conservative MPs are urging Rishi Sunak to set out a more ambitious policy agenda as anxiety grows that the Prime Minister has seemingly failed to move the dial on the party's popularity since entering Downing Street.

Sunak, guided by the Tories' chief strategist Isaac Levido, has instructed ministers to focus hard on the five pledges that he announced at the start of the month as he tries to make up ground on Keir Starmer's Labour Party, which continues to enjoy large, double-digit leads in the polls.

The Prime Minister has vowed to halve inflation, cut NHS waiting times, grow the economy, reduce debt, and put an end to small boats crossing the English Channel.

This message was hammered home on Thursday at a Cabinet away day at Chequers, the Prime Minister's grace-and-favour Buckinghamshire retreat, the Financial Times reported, with ministers told that discipline will be essential if the Conservatives are to have any chance of winning the next general election.

There is growing concern on the Tory back benches, however, that the current No10 strategy is too cautious, and coming at the expense of a more appealing policy offer. One former secretary of state this week bemoaned what they described as a lack of "imagination" in Downing Street, while another frustrated Conservative MP said the Sunak regime "hasn't had any cut through".

It's not just Conservative MPs who are urging Sunak to to do more.

Tony Danker, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, warned this week that "business-as-usual" governance would not suffice as ministers try to repair the economy. 

In a punchy speech at University College London on Monday, Danker said the government had to make "bold changes that will get the UK back in the game", not just "small decisions".

“The CBI will stop asking for yet another national economic plan for now. But we will not stop asking – or holding our politicians to account – for national economic action. On capital, on people, on ideas. Bold changes that will get the UK back in the game," the CBI chief said.

The CBI's Tony Danker

Danker's speech annoyed figures within government, PoliticsHome understands, who point to the work being done by Hunt and Mel Stride, the work and pensions secretary, to get millions of economically inactive people back into work as a clear example of the Sunak agenda.

Danker's remarks, however, reflected a wider frustration in the business community that ministers are not doing enough to help get the UK out of economic crisis and be more competitive on the world stage. One industry figure said Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt had reverted too hard to Treasury "orthodoxy" as part of their bid to restore stability and economic credibility.

One despondent ex-Cabinet minister said the party had simply started to run out of ideas as it tries to avoid being defeated by Labour at the next election, which will happen some time next year.

“When you’ve been in office for twelve years, it's hard to work up eye-catching new ideas...

"There’s nobody stomping around angrily, but nobody thinks we’ve got a hope in hell of rescuing the situation. This is the end of the cycle now," they said.

There is also growing backbench discontent over the signals that the spring budget, which Hunt will deliver in March, will not contain the tax cuts that many Conservative MPs are pushing for.

“It can’t be underestimated the amount of dismay within the parliamentary party about the economy policy," one former minister told PoliticsHome, who added that while the Liz Truss tax-cutting agenda was executed badly, the ideas are supported by a large number of Tory MPs.

Speaking at Bloomberg on Friday morning, the chancellor stressed that while the country needs lower taxes, "sound money must come first", and that he will slash them only "when the time is right". Those remarks have been interpreted as a sign that no10 and the Treasury do not feel the economy is strong enough for them to significantly reduce the tax burden in the foreseeable future.

Theresa Villiers, the former Cabinet minister, said this week that Hunt should use the upcoming budget to "show there is a path" to lower taxes, rather than necessarily slashing them right away.

This approach will undoubtedly disappoint many of her Tory MPs colleagues, however.

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