It feels like groundhog day. Four chancellors of the Treasury in four months. Both No 10 and No 11 Downing Street appear to have revolving doors now. How long before Prime Minister Liz Truss walks out of that revolving door?
In less than two months, Truss has managed to anger all wings of an increasingly divided Conservative Party. Most now believe she cannot lead the party to the next election. Amidst this political madness, for the first time, I can see a terrible sense of decay in this country— a realisation that something has been lost which will be difficult to recover. Since Truss took over, the country has been gripped by a crisis of mind-boggling stupidity since Brexit, Boris and is now threatening national credibility.
Britain Reeling Under Stark Leadership Crisis
Seeing a new Prime Minister’s administration fall apart in a matter of weeks and its origins will be a matter for historians to write about. It will surely start with 2016 and Brexit and the delusion that drove it. It was the start of the end of the Tories.
That self-inflicted disaster, followed by COVID, the Ukraine war and the takeover of neo-liberalism is spelling disaster for the citizens who have to live with a party that is electing Prime Ministers from within its own cabal without the consent of voters.
Conservative MP Robert Halfon told Sky News, “I worry that over the past few weeks, the government has looked like libertarian jihadists and treated the whole country as kind of laboratory mice on which to carry out ultra, ultra-free market experiments.”
Robert Halfon, former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party and an education minister under Theresa May, said he believes Liz Truss needs to apologise to the public for the economic turmoil caused by the mini-budget three weeks ago.
Truss who won the Tory leadership contest with promises of tax cuts and “Growth, growth, growth!” had to do a U-turn on corporation tax rapidly after her friend and former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announced the mini-budget and finally was forced to sack him on Friday and appoint Jeremey Hunt as her new Chancellor.
Will Truss Survive The Whirlwind in British Economy
Recalled from holiday, Hunt who has formerly held the positions of Health Secretary and Foreign Secretary, got down to work immediately and made a financial statement on Monday morning, reversing all the mini-budget tax cuts and scaling back energy bills support.
Such was the emergency to calm the markets that he chose to make the media statement even before his statement in the House of Commons, thereby breaking protocol. Whatever further U-turns he announces and shreds the mini-budget, he has an uphill task.
However, Hunt’s appointment does not ensure Truss’s term in 10 Downing Street.
It may have given her some time but, it is no longer if but when and how she will go. It has been a weekend of machinations, secret discussions about ousting her and arranging a “coronation”. The entrance of Hunt into the cabinet, a One Nation biggie in the party, shows Truss is now trying to appease the centrist Conservatives.
Senior members of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers have been holding talks about Truss’ future. The discussion is obviously focussed on the circumstances in which Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the committee would have to tell Truss to step down.
Under the present rules she will get a grace period of 11 months. But rules can be changed though that would mean all 18 executive members meeting and agreeing, which may take time.
How Jeremy Hunt Took Over Tories
It is interesting to note that Hunt had twice put his hat in the leadership contest, in 2019 and earlier this year but lost on both occasions. It is a surprise resurrection for a man, whose career seemed to be going backwards a few weeks ago.
Significantly, in the latest leadership contest, after he was dropped out of the race, he supported Rishi Sunak. The backbenchers who backed Sunak are furious with Truss as Sunak’s predictions during their election debates are proving right. Truss has clearly lost all political credibility. This is where things begin to get interesting to speculate.
One thought is, looking back, both John Major and Gordon Brown were Chancellors before going on to become Prime Ministers, but definitely not in such a serious tsunami-like situation within their parties.
Since he took office, Hunt, a Remainer, already looks in control and Truss’ precious economic plans in tatters. Truss may still be in office but the power has clearly shifted to 11 Downing Street.
Who Has the Best Chance As the UK PM?
So, could Hunt have a shot at 10 Downing Street, a job he dreamed of?
While the dream job looks quite out of reach, Hunt could well turn out to be the Trojan horse. He could ease the change in leadership without too much chaos. The names doing the rounds to replace Truss are Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt who came third in the leadership contest, and Ben Wallace, Defence Secretary.
Sunak is not trusted by the right-wing European Research Group (ERG) and is seen as the one who brought down the previous government. Given the severe divide within the party, the ongoing discussion behind closed doors is to somehow put together a unity cabinet. They want a coronation-style quick transition wherein, like in former Prime Minister’s Theresa May’s leadership election there will be two candidates and one will withdraw.
Nadine Dorris, former Culture Secretary and close friend of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been tweeting that Johnson should replace Truss and go for early elections. However, that does not seem to hold any water as he already is opposed by most backbenchers and Tory leaders do not want an election right now knowing very well they will face a complete rout.
In the meantime, Labour, for the first time, during the entire Tory turmoil, has called for general elections. The polls clearly show Labour leading with a huge margin at 51% while Conservatives are at 27%. Another poll shows Labour would win 411 seats and Tories will get their lowest at 137 seats.
While Truss’ critics argue that removing her is a matter of national rather than political interest, they are resigned to losing the next election.
Truss’ rigidity, has led to her rapid downslide. For many MPs it is now a fight to limit the damage done to the Tory brand. A rebel MP has been quoted saying, “A bunch of libertarian entryists have taken over the Tory party. It’s our Corbyn problem. We now have a choice between landslide and annihilation. You can’t destroy the economy and our reputation for economic competence and expect anything less.” If she is ousted this year, she will become the shortest-serving Prime Minister in the UK.
(Nabanita Sircar is a senior journalist based in London. She tweets at @sircarnabanita. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)