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Low Excitement Spring Budget Has Tory MPs Waiting For An Autumn Election

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt leaves 11 Downing Street (Alamy)

3 min read

A Spring Budget short of eye-catching announcements has left Conservative MPs in the belief that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt are planning more tax cuts in the Autumn before finally calling a general election.

"This was not a pre-election Budget," a senior Tory told PoliticsHome. 

That was the feeling shared by many Conservative MPs following the Chancellor's highly-anticipated House of Commons statement on Wednesday afternoon.

The Spring Budget was widely seen as a major moment for Sunak's Conservative government as Downing Street and Tory strategists try to narrow the Labour Party's long-running, double-digit leads in the opinion polls, and with the 2024 general election on the horizon.

However, Conservative MPs who spoke to PoliticsHome following Hunt's despatch box statement said that in the end, it was a fairly tepid affair.

The headline policy of cutting National Insurance Contributions by two per cent had already been leaked to the press, meaning it did not at all come as news to the Tory rank and file, while the rest of the Spring Budget didn't pack the sort of punch that they would expect from the precursor to a general election.

"I don't think there's anything really exciting here... It's not going to turn the dial and the Tories aren’t gonna jump 10 points overnight," said the same senior Conservative MP.

Meanwhile, one current minister acknowledged that there was not enough in Hunt's statement today to shift the dial for the Conservative party as it faces the prospect of defeat to Keir Starmer's Labour when the country next goes to the polls. 

"There’s stuff in the Budget you can use on the doorstep but people judge it on feel and zeitgeist — and you can’t get away from that," they told PoliticsHome.

If any moment in Hunt's speech came close to raising eyebrows, it was when the Chancellor signalled in the final few minutes of his House of Commons statement that the Government would look to abolish National Insurance altogether further down the line.

This would represent a fundamental change to how workers are taxed and would likely receive enthusiastic support from Conservative MPs across the board. One former secretary of state said the hint was hugely encouraging, telling PoliticsHome: "It is a very good step forward. National Insurance has been a myth for years."

However, Hunt stressed that simplying the tax system is a long-term ambition and possible only once the economic conditions allow for it. This suggests that it could feature in one last fiscal event in the Autumn before a general election, or as a key plank of the Conservative party's manifesto heading into that election.

Indeed, Tory MPs felt today's statement was not a big bang, but instead a "continuation" of the Downing Street message that the economy is continuing to recover on Sunak's watch. They believe a punchier economic package is coming later in the year, when cutting inheritance tax and unfreezing tax thresholds could be on the agenda. 

A former Cabinet minister said Hunt's "pretty solid" but largely unadventurous Spring Budget on Tuesday was understandable given the state of the economy and the "constraints" the Treasury is facing. "He doesn't have that much wriggle room," they told PoliticsHome.

But if the Spring Budget fails to improve the Tory party's position in the polls in the coming weeks, whetherConservative MPs will have the patience to wait until later in the year for a more radical offer remains to be seen.

Additional reporting by Zoe Crowther.

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