Friday turned out not to be the end for Liz Truss. But it did mark the beginning of the end. And rightly so. I have no idea why people are surprised. Right from the start of the leadership contest I said she was not fit for the job. She is a terrible communicator and has a tin ear. Always has had. Her only quality is her utter self-belief. Despite a less than stellar ministerial career, her MP colleagues put her in the final two. Madness. And now they’re having to deal with the consequences of their actions. Good luck with that.
The best service Liz Truss could now perform for her party is to realise that she’s finished. There’s no coming back from this. Her reputation is trashed. Her incompetence is on full display. Better love hath no prime minister than to sacrifice her friend, to save her career. Sacking Kwasi Kwarteng was a act of political shabbiness. He took it honourably but I doubt he will remain quiet for too long. The fact is, Kwarteng was only doing his mistress’s bidding. The policies he announced in the mini budget were hers. That was a budget dreamt up in Number 10, not Number 11. And yet it is Number 11 that is reaping the whirlwind.
Today was all about saving the Prime Minister’s skin – the sacking of the chancellor, the U-turn on Corporation Tax. And then came the press conference. It was a disaster. All of her faults were on full display. Rather than rallying her MPs, rather than show any sign of contrition for the balls-ups of the last fortnight, rather than face her critics head on, she put in a typically wooden performance, read her script word for word, showed no passion and then only took four questions from outraged lobby journalists. She was in front of the podium for a whole nine minutes. Who one earth is advising on her comms? Mind you, as an adviser you have to have some raw material to work with, I suppose.
She’s survived the day, but for how much longer? In theory, she could recognize that the game is up and do her party a service by quitting. But she won’t. I don’t think she even realizes the extent of discontent not just in the Parliamentary Party but among her cabinet. It is very apparent that not a single cabinet minister has defended her on the media over the last 24 hours.
She’s made clear privately that she’d rather call a general election than be turfed out like her predecessor was. Given the demise of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, this is something she could, in theory, do. But surely her cabinet would revolt. Even Tory turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. Could we see mass cabinet resignations? I wouldn’t bet against it.
The one thing that may hold aback Tory MPs from doing what surely even the thickest of them must realise has to be done, is the prospect of yet another two month leadership contest. They also fear the consequences from the voluntary party if somehow they anoint a new leader with no membership vote. But that is exactly what will, in the end, happen.
There is a growing acceptance that the next election is lost. It didn’t need to be this way, but that’s how it is turning out. You don’t come back from a 33 point poll deficit. Yes you can reduce it to 20 points, or even 10. But you still lose. Having lost your hard earned reputation for economic competence, it is more or less impossible to win it back within the space of two years. Last time they lost it, it took 18 years to get it back.
Liz Truss is in office but not in power. She is now chairman of the cabinet and prime minister in name only. Jeremy Hunt is now the power wielding Chief Executive. To be fair, he’s actually much closer to Truss’s view on economic matters than most people seem to think. In his short lived leadership campaign he pledged to cut Corporation Tax to 15%. However, he knows his power lies in the fact that he is truly indispensable. Or unassailable as a certain other female prime minister might have put it.
I was ridiculed for a tweet back in July when I said that any Tory member who thought Liz Truss was more of an election winner than Rishi Sunak needed to take a reality check. I wonder what those people think now. It’s never attractive for a commentator to rejoice in saying ‘I told you so’, but quite frankly, I did.
The idea of a Sunak/Mordaunt axis is something I struggle to get my head around. They are hardly soulmates, and no one seems to know which one would be in the driving seat. Sunak can also say ‘I told you so’ but he is hardly a king over the water, given his unpopularity before his sacking from the Treasury. Also, and this is crucial, party members would be pretty upset with having someone they rejected thrust upon them. They never got the chance to vote on Penny, so she would have to be the PM candidate, with Rishi being chancellor and deputy PM. Still not sure it’s doable, though.
There is a school of thought that sees Boris Johnson back in Number 10. If the Tories think they are going down to a Canadian scale defeat they might as well bring back a leader who is still popular with some sections of the electorate even if he is anathema to many others. I do not advocate his return but I recognize it is a possibility.
When Liz Truss became prime minister I said that everyone should give her a fair wind. Some will think that 6 weeks is not enough, and she has the right to demand loyalty from MPs and party activists. Loyalty has to be earned. More importantly, it's clear that the writing is already on the wall. And it says 'In the Name of God, Go'.
One thing I do know is this. I know many staunch Conservatives who will not vote Conservative at a general election so long as Liz Truss is leader of the party. In all probability I will be one of them.