The next conservative leader must return the party to first principles

Adam Wildsmith

July 12, 2022

As the Chris Pincher scandal began to unfold, Boris Johnson remained defiant. Addressing the House of Commons in the first week of July he said he was “going to get on and deliver our mandate and win another general election”. Two days later he announced he’d resign.

Plagued by scandals of his own creation, the Brexit messiah had fallen and triggered a leadership election to anoint his successor.

At the time of writing the race to replace him is on, with 11 candidates currently in the running.

The former Chancellor Rishi Sunak – who resigned in protest at Mr Johnson’s faltering leadership – seems committed to following the path he began to chart as Chancellor. He has urged caution and argued restraint in fiscal policy with tax cuts something of an anathema until inflation is brought under control.

Be that as it may, Sunak seems isolated in a leadership election engulfed by candidates pledging to reverse the high tax, high spend culture invested by him as Chancellor.

Nadhim Zahawi, whose brazen opportunism ensured he’d succeed Mr Sunak at the Treasury, has insisted he’d instruct government departments to cut costs by 20 per cent to facilitate a reduction in income tax. Meanwhile, Penny Mordaunt – who has so far secured steadfast support among colleagues – has pledged to cut VAT on petrol in half.

The most unashamed twist comes from Sajid Javid. As Health Secretary he said it was our moral obligation as nation to increase National Insurance to fund social care. Only three months later, and vying for traction among his colleagues, he says if he gets the keys to Number 10, the policy is on the ash heap.

With politicking afoot, it’s difficult to gage how the candidates will approach fiscal policy if granted the highest office in the land. What is clear, however, is that a return to first principles is belated and required.

The government has embarked on successive tax rises. Thresholds were frozen, dragging a greater number of the poor into paying tax and better off individuals into paying more. National Insurance was increased by 1.25 percentage points to fund social care, though the money has so far been earmarked for the wider NHS budget. Corporation Tax was then increased by six percentage points from 19 per cent to 25 per cent. The then Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, subsequently found solace in euphemism, introducing a “temporary, targeted energy profits levy”, a windfall tax to you and me.

The Tory tax war dominated the headlines of the Sunday papers in the second week of July and rightly so. This is the fight that will define the future of the Conservative Party.

The aftershocks of the pandemic have been unrelenting, and Mr Sunak was courageous in delivering economic relief for families by means of grants and government payments. Though it strikes me that the act of raising taxes only to reimburse through way of government grants is counter-intuitive and unconservative.

The act of allowing the individual to keep more of his money is a cornerstone of conservatism and should be reflected in our fiscal policy. It is also the most conservative method to support people during a cost-of-living crisis.

In recent years, the government has become too vast and too involved: it has mustered an uneasy and perturbed feeling among conservatives.

Whoever succeeds Boris Johnson must seek to reduce the size and influence of government. They must do this by allowing individuals to keep more of their hard-earned money; through a reversal of the corporate tax hike to encourage investment in British industry and British jobs and enact through pragmatic policy the conservative belief in limited government and personal responsibility.


Written by Adam Wildsmith

Adam Wildsmith is Deputy Director at Blue Beyond and a Journalism student at Newcastle University

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