What’s saving Liz Truss now is party uncertainty for what comes next
London: Liz Truss faces the House of Commons on Wednesday with her lifetime’s work on the line. Staring at political oblivion, her haphazard 40-odd days in charge have sent expectations so low that it would be difficult not to exceed them.
Everyone, especially the media, loves a pile on, but things are never as good, nor as bad, as they seem. Except for this time. This time everything everyone has said and written about Truss is true.
Liz Truss colleagues now believed she can last until the end of October.Credit:Bloomberg
In less than six weeks a disastrous mini-Budget with billions of pounds of unfunded tax cuts and energy handouts caused market chaos which then forced the new PM to abandon everything she promised. It has placed her on political death row.
In a YouGov poll released on Tuesday (London time) almost eight in 10 people – 77 per cent – now disapprove of Britain’s Conservative government, the highest number recorded in 11 years.
Nine in 10 (87 per cent) believe the government is handling the economy badly. A similar number (80 per cent) said the Government is handling taxation badly. A majority of people – 60 per cent – now expect Labour to win the next general election.
In a separate poll, most Conservative Party members believe Truss should resign. The survey of 530 members, found 55 per cent believe the prime minister should step down, while 38 per cent – said they wanted Truss to stay in post.
Truss is now, by some distance, the most unpopular leader YouGov has ever tracked. Her net favorability of -70 is now a full 15 points worse than Jeremy Corbyn’s worst ever score of -55 in June 2019 and 17 points beyond Johnson’s worst of -53 in July 2020 at the peak of the pandemic.
Liam Fox, the Tory former Cabinet minister, was candid in where he thought things were after Truss’ late-night BBC interview where she issued a mea culpa and pleaded with her colleagues to stay loyal.
Asked how much trouble Truss is in, Fox told Sky News: “We can all read the polls and I don’t need to tell you what the atmosphere is like at Westminster.
“People will be weighing up what the Prime Minister said last night – that she had made mistakes, that she learned from those, and that the measures that Jeremy Hunt had put in place seemed to be providing the necessary economic stability in the markets.”
Liz Truss is now more unpopular than any British leader in a decade.Credit:Getty
Truss needs to hang on until the start of next year to avoid her premiership becoming the shortest in British history. The person who currently holds the title is the Tory statesman George Canning, who spent 118 full days as Prime Minister in 1827 before dying in office from ill health.
That Truss is even still in 10 Downing Street reflects that so many of her colleagues are still unsure what happens next. So many scenarios will rely on Truss understanding that her position is unredeemable and the longer she stays, the fewer Conservative MPs will be left in the Commons after the next election.
Polls come and go, as the saying goes, but the latest results show an election held today would likely end in a catastrophic defeat for the Conservatives, on a par with or even worse maybe than 1997, where the John Major-led party suffered defeat with a net loss of 178 seats.
Of the 357 Tory MPs it’s said around half want her gone now, a third want her gone but can’t decide who should replace her and the final group of loyalists is rallying around to support her, mainly because they want to keep their jobs.
But MPs also do not want a repeat of the six-week leadership campaign they endured all summer which left a zombie government and a bickering party room. MPs are determined to change party rules so that grassroots members are never-again given a vote on the leadership while in government.
So for Truss to be replaced it will likely take some of her most loyal supporters to tap her on the shoulder and convince her its over. It’s widely believed that person would be her loyal friend and deputy Therese Coffey, the pro-smoking health secretary who last week admitted to having previously handed out her own supplies of antibiotics to friends and family, prompting a fierce backlash from doctors.
For Coffey, or others, to achieve that they would need to be convinced that there is a consensus candidate who can unite the party. No one is sure who that person is, although the odds are stacked in the favour of a joint Rishi Sunak-Penny Mordant ticket who between them gained the votes of 242 MPs in the final round of the leadership ballot, compared to Truss’s 113.
Sir Charles Walker, a senior Tory MP, warned the Conservative Party could be out of power for 15 years unless it swiftly rebuilds its reputation.
“I don’t think the position is sufficiently recoverable with the current prime minister,” he told Times Radio. “I think if we get the right person at the helm, who doesn’t promise Conservative MPs the land of milk and honey and jobs in government and this that and the other, then we have got a chance of proving in the dying days, the last two years, to the British people that we are a serious organisation and if discarded at the next general election, we might be worth taking a look at in five or 10 years time.”
Senior MPs are saying Truss should be left in place until after her Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, who many believe is now running the government, delivers his new Budget on October 31 to avoid causing further instability.
But anger over Truss’s leadership seems to have abated on Tuesday, with Westminster commentators saying the mood in Downing Street was “calmer” and “much happier”. Such is the uptick in optimism the prime minister’s allies believe she can now survive until at least the end of the month.
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