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If the idea of a May election is not dead after this Budget then the Tories are finished

It took less than 60 seconds after Jeremy Hunt took his seat again after delivering his Budget for a Conservative MP to text: “I’m presuming we aren’t having a May election.”

Almost an hour and 10 minutes of economic, fiscal, investment and tax measures left many Conservative MPs desperate to take something for the doorstep to sell to their voters feeling largely cold.

One messaged “good stuff” with the Budget but was unable or unwilling to explain why. The more common approach was: “This is a massively missed opportunity.”

Hunt had a good tale to tell of economic competence and Britain’s relative success compared to other struggling European and G7 economies. But Tory MPs were quick to point out that none of that is enough to turn around a deficit in the polls of 20 points.

One Tory MP from a Red Wall seat said: “There was nothing in this Budget really for the people I represent.”

Another said: “We cannot now have a May election. This has to be an appetiser. We need another fiscal event in September with some serious tax cuts to take to the people in the autumn.”

It is worth looking at the main measures.

The already-leaked plan to cut National Insurance (NI) by 2p was welcome and one which was aimed at helping “workers not shirkers” as one MP put it.

But it does nothing for a core group of Tory voters – pensioners. They do not pay NI but are being dragged into paying higher thresholds of income tax.

The lack of movement on the thresholds was particularly painful.

“Lots of people are being dragged into the higher rates of tax and we are just letting it happen,” one MP said.

Increasing the point where small businesses pay VAT was something MPs had also been asking for. The problem is they wanted it to go £250,000 in profits but instead, it went up from £85,000 to £90,000.

“We may as well have not done anything at all. It just looks like we are taking the p***,” one Tory MP complained.

The increase in the threshold where parents are allowed to keep child benefit was also very welcome but only hit a target group.

One Tory MP trying to defend a former red wall Labour seat noted: “I don’t think that affects a single household in my constituency.”

Meanwhile, the big ticket items of an income tax cut, raising the threshold on the 40p rate, abolishing inheritance tax or reforming stamp duty were left largely untouched.

One Tory MP said: “It was like a midterm Budget, keeping things ticking along. It was very competent and pointed us in the right direction. But this will not shift the dial in the way we need to.”

Another said: “Investment in tech stuff is all well and good. The Budget was full of that sort of thing. But it is not something we can sell on the doorsteps.”

Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves came out of the chamber beaming with delight. For someone not best known for her animation, she was struggling to contain her joy.

Hunt had just delivered Labour policies almost as if Labour are already calling the tune.

He abolished non-dom status, and attacked the middle class by ending tax exemptions on second home lets and multi-home purchases.

One MP mused that it was almost as if he had seen Galloway win in Rochdale and taken the “workers party” title a bit too seriously.

Polls will start coming out tomorrow giving first impressions of Hunt’s latest Budget. But it now seems unlikely that this will be his last attempt to persuade voters that they should stick with the Tories.

A May election is dead or the Tories are dead. The strategy now appears to be an election in November.


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