Liz Truss may be safe until Halloween but nightmare is far from over | Liz Truss
When Liz Truss gathers her cabinet in Downing Street for a rare Monday meeting to shore up support and talk them through her radically changed plans for the Halloween budget, she will be trying to convince them she still has a grip on power.
Sacking Kwasi Kwarteng as chancellor and bringing in Jeremy Hunt – who quickly buried key elements of her economic strategy, with tax rises and public spending cuts to come – was a necessary political sacrifice if she was to survive in No 10.
But making Hunt – regarded by Tory MPs as a safe pair of hands capable of calming turbulent markets – the most powerful chancellor of the modern era also underlines the weakness of Truss’s own position.
One minister suggested viewing Hunt as the chief executive of the government and Truss as its chair but as anybody in business knows, it is the former with their hands on the levers of power.
At best, Truss has bought herself more time in No 10 but that could just end up being more time waiting for Tory MPs to organise her removal. Mutinous backbenchers are already plotting how to oust her and deliberating over her replacement. “She still has to go, but she probably gets at least until the budget now,” predicted one.
Most Tory MPs never wanted her – she picked up just 113 votes out of a potential 355 in the final parliamentary round – and even her own supporters, including some in the cabinet, are privately asking what the point of her government now is given she has dumped her low-tax, small-state plans for the economy.
So while Hunt’s arrival has given Truss a temporary reprieve, the question is for how long. There is speculation that as many as 100 letters may already have gone in to the 1922 Committee chair, Sir Graham Brady, to try to trigger a leadership contest, though the push is now for a coronation to avoid party members getting the final say.
The 1922’s executive committee is due to meet on Wednesday with its members stressing they will be discussing how to shore up the prime minister’s support, rather than changing party rules so MPs can ditch her. But as one member admitted: “You never quite know where these things go.”
Several plots appear to be under way, with Rishi Sunak supporters organising a dinner on Monday night for colleagues – ostensibly to discuss the economy – while Penny Mordaunt, who came third in the leadership contest, is said to have been taking soundings.
The defence secretary, Ben Wallace, a favourite of Tory members who ruled himself out last time to avoid intrusion into his private life, is also thought to be reconsidering his position. And even Boris Johnson, apparently blind to the depth of his unpopularity with the public, is said by friends to retain hopes of a comeback.
As more than one Tory MP has suggested, the Conservative party appears to resemble a political death cult having torn through four prime ministers in six years and four chancellors in as many months. They remain split on whether going for a fifth leader would be the final nail in the Tory coffin, or give them a final opportunity to reset.
The prospect of a general election looms large. Tory MPs, spooked by their dramatic slump in the polls, do not want to lose their seats but few believe they will win a fifth term whoever is at the helm.
As a result, some think it would be more strategic to hold an election now, leaving Labour to confront the tough economic challenges over the next two years and, potentially, limiting the chances of the Tory party being out of power for a generation.
Meanwhile, the public looks on with incredulity. Across the country, people are facing an NHS on its knees, soaring energy bills and crippling mortgage interest rates, and yet the government seems more focused on insatiable bloodlust. Hunt’s arrival may have bought Truss until the Halloween budget, but her nightmare is only just beginning.