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The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
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The public is turning on the shambolic Tories

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Voters are looking at Rishi Sunak's chaotic mini-Budget and concluding: the party stands for nothing at all. 

Every so often, a member of the Question Time audience manages to capture the current mood.

It happened when an elderly gentleman told a bickering Nigel Farage and Eddie Izzard to "shut up" during a programme filmed in the run up to the EU referendum in June 2016.

It happened when Eric Pickles, then the chairman of the Conservative Party, was so badly heckled in 2009, he was forced to concede: "I am never going to be able to satisfy you folks".

And it happened again on Thursday night when a smartly dressed, 70-year-old hairdresser tore into Home Office minister Damian Hinds over Rishi Sunak's Spring Statement.

"I can't tell you how disappointed I am with your Government. I really can't express in words the mess you have made," she said, clearly anguished.

"I sat through the pandemic and I watched money being haemorrhaged away, money that we could well do with now."

Describing the Government as "a disappointment," she channelled Oscar Wilde as she added: "You know the cost of everything and the value of nothing," before finishing with a David Davis-esque flourish: "I don't know what to say to you other than just the lot of you, just go!"

It being the BBC, you could have been forgiven for thinking she was probably a closet Labour activist – like one of those doctors dragged on to criticise the Government's handling of the pandemic during lockdown, without revealing that they wore a red rosette at the weekends.

Or perhaps even a Liberal Democrat stooge, if such things still exist.

But the trouble for the Chancellor – and by association, Boris Johnson – is that this woman, speaking so critically of our elected representatives, actually said she was a Conservative voter. And she was disgusted with Wednesday's mini budget.

Not unreasonably, she asked Hinds as the only Tory on the panel: "What do people who own businesses do to earn a living? The knock on effect is unthinkable."

Reflecting on a "tax plan" that offered nothing to small and medium-sized businesses and will see the Treasury raking in more of our hard-earned cash in 2025 than it did last October, the lady in red clearly had a point.

For if they don't stand for low taxes, for business owners and for their hard-working employees – who on earth do the Tories stand for?

I would humbly suggest that you, dear reader, have a better idea of what Conservatism actually is than most members of the current Cabinet and, surely, the entire population of the Treasury right now.

If I was Nigel Lawson, I would insist that Rishi Sunak take my portrait down from his office and replace it with a picture of Gordon Brown instead.

Because if we learned anything from Wednesday's smoke and mirrors, jam-tomorrow "ubershambles" of a Spring Statement – it is that the idea of the Chancellor being a Thatcherite is, like his rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul tax offering, an illusion.

In fact, by some estimates, Mr Sunak has raised taxes more in two years than Gordon Brown managed during all his 10 tax-and-spend years at the Treasury.

Comparatively, as John Redwood pointed out this week, over the Thatcher years as a whole, the basic rate of income tax was cut from 33 per to 25 per cent. The top rate of income tax was cut from 80 per cent to 40 per cent. The investment income surcharge of 15 per cent was removed completely.

By the end of her time in office, not only had the total income tax take risen, but the rich ended up paying more tax as a proportion of the total, delivering more money for public services and most crucially: economic growth.

We know this basic brand of Conservative economics still works because cutting corporation tax under David Cameron coincided with receipts skyrocketing by 50 per cent. (Lo and behold, last year's temporary cut to Stamp Duty also saw revenues strongly up – thanks to a currently thriving housing market.)

I'm not sure what happens to Conservative chancellors as soon as they walk through the doors of No 11. Perhaps it brings on an immediate bout of amnesia.

But Mr Sunak is the latest to fall victim to their trademark, doomsday, tax-everything-that-moves philosophy.

Indeed, so desperate are the bean-counters to part us from as much of our earnings as possible that they keep on "forgetting" to tell us that the deficit is actually billions less than they thought it would be. All of which rather makes a mockery of their claim that they need a Health and Social Care levy to raise an extra £12billion a year.

Taxes are set to rise to their highest levels as a fraction of national income since Clement Atlee was prime minister and households are facing the biggest hit to disposable income per person since records began in the 1950s.

The bravest thing to have done would have been to axe the levy rather than coming up with a package of measures which are probably going to be completely wiped out by inflation approaching 8 per cent and fiscal drag.

What difference does an increase in the National Insurance threshold or 1p off income tax make when there is already in place a four-year freeze in the personal allowance and higher rate threshold?

Indeed, as Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies pointed out on Thursday, increasing the National Insurance floor and cutting the rate of income tax benefits pensioners and non earners at the expense of workers.

With no further help for people running businesses and even middle earning recent graduates stung by an increase in payments following a change in the student loan system, one wonders who exactly the Tories are actually "for"?

Perhaps even they don't know.

While I appreciate that the pandemic has hardly helped the already heavily challenged national finances, in what post-Brexit world were we promised a tax burden rivalling that of France?

Taxes are now expected to account for more than 36 per cent of Britain's GDP, up from 33 per cent before Covid.

Mr Sunak's decision to increase our rate of corporation tax from next April may also make us less competitive than much of the EU at precisely the time we should be more competitive.

So this isn't the politics of Maggie but of Macron – a politician who frankly epitomises the "all things to all men" approach. And herein lies the real problem for the Prime Minister. Everyone got angry with David Cameron and George Osborne's "omnishambles" of a budget in 2012 – exemplified by two former public schoolboys who didn't appear to know what a pasty was.

But in many ways Wednesday's schizophrenic offering was much worse. Because it speaks to a Government that is so unsure of what it is – or so divided over what its governing philosophy on the economy should be – that it thinks it's acceptable to claim to be both tax-cutting and tax-rising in the same breath.

Are they a social democratic party of public services, or are they for individual responsibility and empowerment? Because they can't be both.

If the Tories can't decide what they stand for, then like the lady on Question Time, the public will conclude that they stand for nothing at all. 

Camilla Tominey fires an Exocet at the Conservatives . . .  in this article which first appeared in The Daily Telegraph.

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