Hunt’s budget has ‘backed Red Wall Tories into corner’, says pollster

Autumn Statement: Key announcements from Jeremy Hunt

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Jeremy Hunt’s budget has left Tories, especially those representing so-called Red Wall constituencies in the north, “between a rock and a hard place”, and staring down the barrel of a general election defeat in 2024, a pollster has said. The Chancellor today set out a package of around £30billion of spending cuts and £24billion in tax rises over the next five years, with the pound dipping by one percent against the dollar shortly afterwards.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has said the economy is likely to shrink by two percent during the start of a lengthy recession which started earlier this year, while Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves accused Mr Hunt of having “picked the pockets” of the entire country by deploying a “raft of stealth taxes”.

Chris Hopkins, director of polling organisation Savanta, said the omens were not good for the Conservatives’ prospects in two years’ time.

He told “I think Conservatives, in general, would be afraid that there’s not enough support to help people, put very simply.

“Caught between the rock and the hard place of generally opposing state handouts, but appreciating that things are very difficult for people up and down the country, it’s hard to see where the party can win, here.

“Conservative MPs can appease their core voters – lots in the statement for pensioners, in particular – and can claim that they’re protecting the most vulnerable with the benefits rise, but middle-income families are still going to struggle and there’s so little that the party or its MPs can do about it without pandemic-level state support – which most Tories are obviously opposed to.”

It was now up to Tory MPs, not least those in northern constituencies, to try to deflect blame away from themselves “else the voters will hammer them at the next election”, Mr Hopkins said.

He added: “It’s less about what they do now, but more whom the public think is to blame, and post-Truss/Kwarteng, it’s really hard for the Tories to say that anyone other than themselves is culpable.”

Nevertheless, Mr Hopkins stressed the budget would not necessarily prove the key factor in shaping people’s opinions.

He explained: “We must remember that the voters who won the election for the Conservatives in 2019 aren’t low-tax Tories – if they were, they’d have voted Conservative in 2017, 2015, 2010 etc.

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“If the Tories lose these 2019 voters, including in the Red Wall, it really doesn’t mean they’ve abandoned the Tories because of today’s potential tax rises – sure, it probably won’t help things, but it’s certainly not going to the tipping point for many.

“Sunak and Hunt seem to banking on the ‘difficult decisions’ argument, providing sensible but pragmatic leadership and appealing to the better nature of the public who do, generally, understand the UK’s economic plight (primarily because they’re feeling it themselves), hoping that the public doesn’t clobber them and almost take pity on them.

“It’s a strategy, but it’s a risk – it was broadly what happened in 2010, except back then the Tories were able to blame Labour, didn’t have an election on the horizon, and weren’t 20+ points behind in the polls.

“It’s hard to see a route to a Conservative General Election win at the moment, but whatever happens today, it’d be unfair to portion any blame on this autumn statement.”

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt told MPs he was having to make difficult decisions to ensure a “shallower downturn”, but the economy was still expected to shrink 1.4 percent in 2023.

He told MPs he was taking “difficult decisions” to curb inflation, adding: “High inflation is the enemy of stability. It means higher mortgage rates, more expensive food and fuel bills, businesses failing and unemployment rising.

“It erodes savings, causes industrial unrest and cuts funding for public services. It hurts the poorest the most and eats away at the trust upon which a strong society is built.”

However, Ms Reeves responded: “In the last hour, the Conservatives have picked the pockets of purses and wallets of the entire country as the Chancellor has deployed a raft of stealth taxes taking billions of pounds from ordinary working people.

“A Conservative double whammy, that sees frozen tax thresholds and double-digit inflation erode the real value of people’s wages.

“Just one of those freezes, in the personal allowance, will cost an average earner more than £600.”

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