Political rehabilitation is a gruelling exercise: no more so than for Liz Truss, who was consigned to the history books as Britain’s shortest-serving prime minister having shattered the Conservatives’ mantel for careful stewardship of the economy.
But she is persisting, once again stalking the corridors of Westminster and keen to ensure her fiery campaign to “go for growth” does not tank like the markets did in response to the mini-budget last September.
Out of the ashes of her ill-fated premiership has been born the Conservative Growth Group (CGG). On the surface, it is a caucus that will try to cajole Rishi Sunak to keep the flame of tax cuts and deregulation alive in the run up to the next general election.
It is also undeniably a bid by former frontline politicians associated with the Truss administration who have little immediate prospect of being promoted into Sunak’s government of rebuilding their political careers.
And given fears among Conservative MPs of a drubbing at the next general election, the group may act as an incubator of unashamedly pro-growth candidates that could replace Sunak in an ensuing leadership contest.
So far, the CGG has proved a relatively tame thorn in the government’s side. A few dozen MPs have expressed interest in being members, but Truss was one of less than 20 who were said to have turned up to the last meeting.
“The parliamentary party is not in a happy place,” said one member who was there. “This government has shown staggeringly little ambition for growth and some of us need to show [the chancellor] Jeremy Hunt he can’t just talk about it as an ambition – he’s got to deliver it.”
Many of Truss’s former team of advisors have gone back to jobs they held before their brief stint in Downing Street, or secured new roles at consultancy and public affairs firms. One, sources said, is preparing to go to business school.
Truss herself is keeping a low profile. “She’s using this caucus to show there is still political appetite for her agenda among a sector of the Conservative Party,” said one source. “But obviously her being too front and centre is toxic.”
The figures fronting the CGG are Simon Clark, the young former levelling up secretary and Teeside MP, and Ranil Jayawardena, a former environment secretary in one of the safest Tory seats in the country – North East Hampshire.
Those with knowledge of the group’s plans say specific policy interventions are being mulled on tax relief for childcare, liberalising planning restrictions and changes to the IR35 tax system.
Pressure for more pro-growth initiatives are likely to build ahead of the spring budget. Though Hunt has signalled he is strictly focused on doing everything to bring down inflation, that has not stopped senior Tories – including the former party leader Iain Duncan Smith – pushing for a swifter pivot to using tax cuts to boost growth.
To broaden out the CCG’s support, meetings have been held with several free-market thinktanks.
Truss is said to have rekindled connections with her old associates at the Institute for Economic Affairs, which was one of the most vocal supporters of her project. “The Tufton Street project is dead but not necessarily buried,” said one Tory source.
Another insider told the Guardian she was considering writing an inquest piece reflecting on her downfall but advocating for the emphasis on growth to remain – something her spokesperson did not deny.
Though some Sunak supporters believe Truss’s programme has been so publicly discredited there will be little pressure for him to take the CGG seriously over the next 12 months, the group may have a more influential role in a future leadership contest.
Some believe the CGG could build up a substantial bastion of support and become a breeding ground for contenders focused relentlessly on the growth, tax cutting and deregulation agenda.
But sceptics say it is only likely to produce the equivalent candidate of John Redwood in the 1997 Tory leadership, who mustered a core group of supporters from the right of the party but ultimately failed to broaden his appeal to colleagues.