Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has insisted his tax cuts are about “long-term growth” for the economy, calling it “silly” to think they were instead about the timing of the next election.
The Conservative Party has been told to be ready for a general election from 1 January, a senior government source told Sky News’s political editor Beth Rigby, with a vote being called as early as May if Wednesday’s autumn statement goes down well with voters.
In his speech to the Commons, Mr Hunt announced a raft of measures, including reducing national insurance for employees from 12% to 10% and scrapping it entirely for the self-employed.
But economists have pointed out that the overall tax burden will remain at a record high because of the continued freeze on tax thresholds.
Politics live: ‘Clear choice’ at next election, says Hunt
The chancellor told Sky News he hadn’t chosen “the most populist tax cuts”, with most of the policies aimed at boosting business growth.
But he denied the NI cuts were a pre-election giveaway, saying: “It’s silly to think about this in terms of the timing of the next election. We’re trying to make the right decisions for long-term growth of the economy.”
The tax cuts came amid long-standing pressure from the Tory backbenches to reduce the burden on both the public and business, which has been sat at a 70-year high.
But a general election is also looming, with the government having to call the ballot by January 2025 at the latest, and the Conservatives are still lagging behind Labour in the polls.
A senior government source told Beth Rigby that the Tories’ campaign director, Issac Levido, is due to join the party on a full time basis from the new year in order to make sure they are ready for the election as soon as possible.
Another senior source also told Sky News’ political editor that the plan was to “prepare for November” but be “ready for May”, in case the tax cuts help them narrow the gap, giving them a better chance of winning an historic fifth term in office.
But it also gives them an option if the measures go down badly on their own backbenchers and a confidence vote is called on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s leadership, allowing him to trigger a snap election.
Mr Hunt defended the