Tory MPs who enthusiastically lent Philip Hammond their support for his decision to break the party’s manifesto and increase National Insurance have now been left swinging in the wind after the chancellor performed a sharp u-turn on the policy.
Speaking in the Commons today, Sir Desmond Swayne highlighted the situation many Conservatives now find themselves in.
“As a slavish supporter of the government I am in some difficultly,” he told Hammond.
“Because my article robustly supporting the chancellor’s earlier policy in the Forest Journal [his local newspaper] is already with the printer.
“I just, having been persuaded of the correctness of the course he is now following, merely needed an opportunity to recant.”
The chancellor’s decision to today swiftly ditch the key Budget policy, in the face of a backbench Tory rebellion, was even more awkward for Rory Stewart.
The international development minister was caught out defending the tax rise live on TV the very moment it happened.
Stewart told the BBC’s Daily Politics the rise in National Insurance for some self employed people was the right thing to do. But then after informed of the u-turn, he decided that was also the right thing to do.
Former culture minister Ed Vaizey was caught off guard when the news broke.
Rishi Sunak, the Conservative MP for Richmond, defended the policy in the Commons the day after the Budget as the opposition on the Tory benches grew.
“I believe it is right that those who benefit from public services make an appropriate contribution to paying for them, and that is what this Budget’s changes to National Insurance will do,” he told the Commons in defence of the chancellor’s initial policy.
Conservative MPs grew increasingly frustrated during David Cameron and George Osborne’s time in office, as they frequently were sent out to defend policies that were subsequently ditched.
Last Wednesday evening, Tory MP James Cleverly raised the prospect of this with Hammond at a meeting of the backbench 1922 Committee.
He told the chancellor said MPs were prepared to go out and defend the tax rise, but only if the Treasury didn’t subsequently ditch it when the media heat got too hot.