Sunak’s UK Conservative Party conference haunted by Truss and other rivals | ET REALITY


It may be inevitable for a political party that has held power in Britain for almost 14 years, but the Conservative Party’s annual conference is plagued by uneasy ghosts from its past and future.

On Monday, Liz Truss, the prime minister ousted a year ago after her tax cut proposals upended financial markets, stole the show with a packed speech on the sidelines, arguing that Britain should cut taxes on corporations. .

Home Secretary Suella Braverman on Tuesday was expected to use her speech to appeal to the party’s far right as she competes for a seat alongside a bevy of other leadership hopefuls who would like to replace Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the helm. of the party if it loses next year’s general election, as polls currently suggest.

It is against this noisy backdrop that Mr Sunak will speak on Wednesday. He hopes to use the meeting to reset his own ailing political brand and make a case for why voters should keep the Conservatives in power. Neither of these goals is helped by the dissenting voices competing for attention at the Manchester convention centre.

Truss’s appearance was an unwanted reminder of her brief, tumultuous tenure, which spooked investors, sent mortgage rates soaring and sent the pound into a tailspin. His departure paved the way to Downing Street for Sunak. But rather than fade away, Truss has vigorously defended his trickle-down policies, even at the cost of driving a new rift in the party over taxes.

Braverman, who will speak Tuesday afternoon, has taken a hardline stance on immigration, calling in a recent speech in Washington for stricter rules for asylum seekers. Her statements have made her the favorite of the political right. But they could well discourage voters already offended by Britain’s plan to send asylum seekers on one-way flights to Rwanda.

“It’s a really complicated situation for any prime minister,” said Anand Menon, a professor of European politics at King’s College London. “There is a battle going on for the soul of the party and who will lead that new party.”

These types of family rivalries are not new in the Conservative Party, he said. Boris Johnson, before becoming prime minister, often appeared at these conferences as a cheerful insurgent, often overshadowing the leader of the day. Sunak has tried to counter the distractions by implementing a series of populist climate and energy policies that he hopes will make him a man of action.

But it does so at a very tense time, with the Conservatives trailing the opposition Labor Party by double digits, exhausted and divided after their long spell in government; and struggling to deliver on his promises, whether it be reducing Britain’s high inflation rate or its long hospital waiting lists.

At cocktail parties in Manchester, the hottest rumor was that Sunak would announce that the government is scrapping part of an ambitious high-speed rail line, known as HS2, that would connect northern English cities with London – a strange message for a meeting in one of those cities, and aimed to showcase a party investing in Britain’s future. Johnson, although no longer a legislator and not in Manchester, warned against the decision.

Even the logistics of the meeting contributed to the image of a house divided. On Monday, Ms Truss arrived at the conference hotel a few minutes after Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt in a motorcade identical to his own, a reminder of her status as a former prime minister, although she only served 44 days.

Party members queued an hour before his speech at what was called the “Great British Growth” rally, dedicated to promoting his agenda of cutting taxes and reducing regulations to stimulate the economy.

Hunt, whose priority is controlling inflation, has ruled out cutting taxes in the short term, but faces growing domestic pressure. Many Conservative lawmakers expect tax cuts to be announced before the next election, and more than 30 of them recently signed a letter pledging not to vote in Parliament for any new tax increases.

Ms Truss called for the main tax rate on corporations to be reduced to 19 per cent or lower, from 25 per cent, and said cutting red tape and increasing tax incentives could boost housing construction to produce 500,000 units per year. anus.

“We need to recognize that government is too big, that taxes are too high, and that we are spending too much,” he said, in words that could have been taken from his speech during his 2022 leadership campaign.

Economists have not revised their verdict on Truss since she left. His emphasis on tax cuts overlooks what has held back the British economy, many said, namely the dearth of public and private investment that has hurt productivity and hollowed out institutions like the National Health Service.

“The UK is not overburdened,” said Jonathan Portes, professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London. “Taxes must go up, not down, to restore public services and address demographic pressures.”

“Truss is right that we need aggressive pro-growth policies in some areas: housing, planning, infrastructure, skills,” he added. “The government has failed to meet them and in some aspects is going backwards.”

Ms Truss still has fans, who gave her a rapturous reception and posed with her for photographs as she made her way to the exit.

“She is one of the few people within the party who has the ambition and vision to change things in our economy,” said Edward Todd, a Conservative Party member from High Barnet, outside London.

With so many members gathered in one place, the conference offers an unrivaled platform for those with leadership ambitions to raise their profile. But in doing so, those vying to succeed Sunak inevitably stoked internal tensions over issues even more emotive than taxes.

Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary, waded into the intense debate over trans rights. “I will not apologize for fighting for a society that knows what a woman is,” she declared.

Badenoch, who is considered a right-wing rival to Braverman, echoed his hard line on migration by arguing in a newspaper interview that leaving the European Convention on Human Rights was “definitely something that needs to be on the table.” “Critics of the convention blame it for legally challenging the plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

But the issue divides the party. Tom Tugendhat, the security minister, said he was concerned that leaving the convention would affect Britain’s other international obligations and treaties, including the Good Friday Agreement on Northern Ireland and Britain’s Brexit trade deal.

For her part, Ms Braverman traveled to Washington to argue that not only the European Convention on Human Rights needed to be reviewed, but also the United Nations convention on refugees. And she used surprisingly blunt language to describe the limits of what she called acceptable asylum claims, prompting expressions of outrage from singer Elton John and LGBTQ activists in her own party.

“There are vast areas of the world where it is extremely difficult to be gay or to be a woman,” Braverman said at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank.

“Where people are persecuted, it is only right that we offer shelter,” he continued. “But we will not be able to sustain an asylum system if, in practice, simply being gay, or a woman, or fearing discrimination in the country of origin, is enough to qualify for protection.”

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