After Liz Truss’s spectacular fall from power, it was hard to find Tories who were happy to admit to having supported her. ‘Trussonomics’ became a punchline. Most of her plans were scrapped, including, this week, her childcare proposals. But among the wreckage of the Truss experiment, there is one survivor who is willing to defend its principles, loudly and publicly. And now he’s waging a lonely fight on the backbenches.
Simon Clarke had little profile when he was a Treasury minister under Boris Johnson, but as Truss’s levelling up secretary he was one of the most vocal advocates of her ideas. When she was forced to abandon cutting the top rate of tax from 45p to 40p, Clarke deplored the U-turn. He is pro-growth, pro-enterprise and (he’d argue) pro-young. His side of the debate, he thinks, is being silenced in an overreaction to the failure of Truss’s premiership, which risks turning the Conservatives into the party of managed decline.
His new project is called Next Generation Conservatives. ‘It’s about the political sustainability of the Conservative electoral coalition,’ he says. Current polling is ‘nothing less than apocalyptic’ among the under-forties – just 15 per cent say they will vote Tory. Clarke, a millennial himself at just 38, fears that his party is retreating into a grey comfort zone. He believes long-term factors are more to blame for the collapse of public support than just September’s mini-Budget.
So what went wrong? ‘The bluntest answer would be that because we are so reliant on older voters we have at times done things unwisely which have dragged us too far over in our courting of the grey vote,’ he says. ‘If we are serious about giving people the chance to own a home, we’ve got to build some.