This article was written by Alain Tolhurst and originally published on Politics Home.
Exclusive: John Penrose, who dramatically resigned from his position as the government’s anti-corruption lead this week, has challenged Boris Johnson to “stop splurging money” and take control of the public finances if he wishes to get his leadership back on track.
On Monday night, Boris Johnson narrowly won a vote of confidence in his leadership after Tory MPs voted by 211 to 148 to keep him in charge.
But with 41% of MPs voting against him, Johnson faces an uphill struggle to regain control of the party, and is expected to announce a series of new policies in order to win back their support.
On Thursday he travelled to Blackpool to launch new housing proposals, and he will give a joint speech with Rishi Sunak later this month outlining the government’s plan for economic reform in the face of global inflationary pressures, soaring consumer prices and low growth.
There have also been calls on the Treasury for immediate cuts to VAT or National Insurance to help individuals and businesses get through the current crisis.
Penrose is among influential Tories who are calling on Johnson and Sunak to reduce borrowing and cut taxes to help tackle the cost of living crisis, and believed this would be integral to shoring up support of MPs.
“This is where there are two warring bits of the Tory soul in conflict with each other – because every Tory worth their salt with enough red blood in their veins loves a tax cut, and so we should,” he explained on this week’s episode of PoliticsHome podcast, The Rundown.
“But we’re also the party of sound money, and we’ve got some very important fiscal rules.
“For understandable and good reasons the national debt has gone through the roof during the pandemic, but it’s not sustainable long-term.
“Rishi Sunak and Boris have got to bring the public finances back under control. That means you can’t carry on splurging money everywhere. You can’t carry on borrowing.”
The Weston-super-Mare MP, who has served in ministerial roles under former prime ministers David Cameron and Theresa May, before spending five years as the UK’s Anti-Corruption Champion, said there are still “some opportunities for tax cuts”, but the government must make sure they do not cause further inflation.
“If you’re not careful and do a tax cut the wrong way and you just put fuel on the fire and you make inflation worse, [then] that’s really bad for pensioners, and all sorts of other people too,” Penrose added.
He also called on Sunak and Johnson to “channel their inner Nigel Lawson” and emulate the infamously low-tax Chancellor of the 1980s to help drive productivity.
Shortly after Monday’s vote on confidence in the prime minister was announced, Penrose quit his anti-corruption role saying it was “pretty clear” that Johnson had broken the ministerial code after being fined for attending a gathering in Number 10 in breach of coronavirus laws.
“That’s a resigning matter for me, and it should be for the PM too,” he wrote ahead of Monday’s vote, which the Prime Minister won by 63 votes.
But despite anticipated rebellion in the aftermath of Johnson’s narrow victory, Penrose said the mood is still “pretty subdued” among his Conservative colleagues. He believed that even those who voted against Johnson “probably want to give him a bit of space” to try and turn things round and show “what the new Boris and the new regime is going to look like”.
He added: “Goodness knows we all want him to succeed because actually the government’s programme – the ‘Levelling Up’ agenda – remains popular, and most of us find on the doorsteps that actually the ideas in the manifesto are still moving minds and still moving spirits and still enthusing people.”