The Sunday Telegraph

Our voters want return to fiscal discipline, says beaten Tory

- By Edward Malnick

MANY Conservati­ve voters deserted the party in last week’s by-election because they feared it was on course to preside over a “bloated public sector which stifles enterprise and demands ever-higher taxes”, the Tory candidate in the poll says today.

In an article for The Sunday Telegraph, Peter Fleet, the Tory candidate beaten by the Liberal Democrats in Chesham and Amersham, Bucks, states that many past supporters of the party wanted Mr Johnson to return to “traditiona­l Conservati­ve values”, including “fiscal discipline”.

Mr Fleet, a former Ford executive, says the Lib Dems, who overturned the Conservati­ves’ 16,000 majority, benefited from Tories who “lent their vote” to register protests against the “deeply resented” High Speed 2 rail line, the Government’s planning reforms, and the “appalling state of our local roads”.

His interventi­on comes as Tory MPs prepare to use a Commons debate tomorrow called by Labour to urge Mr Johnson to water down the proposed planning changes, which will loosen restrictio­ns to build more houses. Separately, Steve Reed, the shadow housing secretary, told this newspaper that Labour is planning to bring forward a private member’s Bill to guarantee “communitie­s’ right to object to planning applicatio­ns that threaten their local area”.

The Planning and Local Representa­tion Bill will allow anyone making representa­tions on a planning applicatio­n the “right to be heard”, and would give the public a right to be consulted for at least 21 days on all forms of developmen­t. The move is intended to drive a wedge between the Government and dozens of backbenche­rs who fear that the result in Amersham and Chesham could be replicated across Tory heartlands if ministers press ahead with the planning reforms.

Writing in this newspaper, Mr Fleet states: “Some Conservati­ves lent their vote to the Lib Dems to register their protest on HS2, planning and the state of our roads. Many more simply stayed at home.

“These stay-at-home Tories want to hear more about traditiona­l Conservati­ve values. While they fully recognise that we had to commit emergency wartime levels of public expenditur­e to deal with Covid, they are now looking for clear evidence that their Conservati­ve government will restore fiscal discipline at the earliest possible opportunit­y. They fear a return to a bloated public sector which stifles private enterprise and demands ever higher taxes.

“They very much like and respect Rishi Sunak. And they do not expect

fretful Tory backbenche­rs to push the Chancellor into saying ‘yes’ to every request for more and more public spending from the benches opposite.”

In an article for The Sunday Telegraph, James Frayne, the founding partner of Public First, an opinion research agency, warns the Tories to ditch the language of “levelling up”, which he suggests is alienating voters in the South.

“[The phrase] has never worked in focus groups; provincial voters doubt ‘levelling up’ could ever happen; affluent Southern voters think they will be fleeced to pay for revolution,” Mr Frayne states. “With a more national message for workers should come a national message for all those towns and cities which have seen better days.”

Tory opponents of the Government’s planning reforms, whose 80-strong grouping includes Theresa May, are expected to use an opposition day debate tomorrow to repeat their demands for a rethink of the plans.

Conservati­ve MPs are unlikely to vote with Labour on an opposition motion but will use the opportunit­y to warn ministers to learn from the Chesham defeat.

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