Conservative backbenchers have criticised the government for a string of “avoidable” summer U-turns, ahead of MPs returning to Westminster on Tuesday.
One former Conservative minister told Sky News that some Tory MPs were now spending their time “gambling on how long before the next U-turn happens”.
The senior politician also called on the Boris Johnson to hold an autumn Cabinet reshuffle to clear out the “third-rate sycophants and hangers on”.
Another MP, from a seat won by the Conservatives in December, said the summer U-turns were “predictable and fixable” and that Number 10 needs to start listening to the parliamentary party.
“Our radar needs to dramatically improve… everyone knows these things are looming”, the MP said.
Former First Secretary of State Damian Green told Sky News that Mr Johnson now needs to give ministers “a sense of direction”.
“The last few weeks have been difficult”, he said.
“What I think is essential, as parliament comes back this week, is that the government gets back on to the levelling up agenda, the agenda of spreading prosperity.”
It comes as a poll by Opinium shows Labour now level-pegging with the Conservatives at 40% in the voting intention poll.
One Conservative peer said the poll changes were not dramatic or dire, but that the mishandling of issues like education was causing a “steady deterioration”.
“New MPs normally take about two years at least to turn on the person who got them elected… and the absence of conference and by-elections will help the government”, he said.
A Council leader from a traditional Tory area also said fury over U-turns was an issue only for “the bubble” and that among the grassroots, the prime minister was still getting “a lot of the benefit of the doubt because of the pandemic”.
It comes amid renewed speculation about how ministers will pay for the financial fallout from the pandemic.
Treasury sources dismissed newspaper reports that the chancellor was planning to raise capital gains tax and corporation tax as “random speculation”.
However, Rishi Sunak has admitted there would be “difficult times ahead”, as the government brings public finances back under control.
Former Conservative chancellor Lord Lamont told Sky News that tax rises or spending cuts were now “probably inevitable”.
He said: “At some point there will have to be a tightening of the public finances, my own preference would be not to do it immediately, but perhaps to indicate in the autumn that this will be done.
Rebalancing the books is one of a number of challenges ministers will face in the coming months, alongside a predicted increase in coronavirus cases, Brexit and the usual winter pressures.
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Senior Conservative MP and Brexiteer Charles Walker said the prime minister had created a “climate of uncertainty” that he needed to fix.
“It is becoming increasingly difficult for backbenchers now to promote and defend government policy as so often that policy is changed or abandoned without notice”, he told the Observer.
Last night, Mr Walker predicted a “busy and workman-like” first week when backbenchers return to Westminster in the coming days.