- Daniel Sillett
Our shortest-serving Prime Minister: how Truss toppled the Tories
By DANIEL SILLETT
They famously say that a week is a long time in politics, but good gracious they were wrong. A mere 24 hours is a long time in politics in this crazy era we’re living through.
It’s Thursday 20 October 2022. Let me talk you through what’s happened. Make sure you’re sitting comfortably.
Wednesday got off to a shaky start when Suella Braverman resigned as Home Secretary. Former Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was appointed as her replacement.
The Government then lost its bill on fracking. While voting against the Government’s bill on fracking, MPs were brawling, being physically manhandled, and essentially fighting like hyperactive hormonal schoolchildren. The House of Commons turned into a boxing ring.
Robert Peston, ITV News’s political editor, added himself to a long list of presenters to have accidentally dropped the C-bomb when discussing Jeremy Hunt’s tax cuts. Anushka Asthana, also at ITV, said that ‘Tory MPs voting for an election would be like turkeys voting for Christmas, and basting themselves in oil, and sticking the oven on’. Ouch.
Charles Walker, Conservative MP for Broxbourne, cynically declared to ‘all those people who put Liz Truss in Number 10, I hope it was worth it’.
During Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Prime Minister Liz Truss assured us that she is ‘a fighter and not a quitter’. On Thursday, Prime Minister Liz Truss had quit.
I tell you, if Netflix are looking for the next big high-octane drama, this is it. Unfortunately, however, this isn’t a TV show. It’s real life.
Liz Truss’s resignation, just 44 days after entering Number 10, means that, by next week, we will have our third Prime Minister this year. And don’t relax yet – there’s still two months of 2022 to go.
Truss’s premiership has been chaotic. The leader who admired the lady who wasn’t for turning made so many U-turns that the country went dizzy. From policies, like the 45p tax rate, to personnel, including replacing Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng with Jeremy Hunt, Truss has been indecisive and weak. The ideologue determined to resurrect Mrs Thatcher whatever the cost dissolved into a mere opportunist, desperately clinging onto power.
To enter Downing Street with such promise, yet to fall with such brevity, is of significant concern for the Conservative Party. If Truss was the best leader they could come up with, what does that tell us about the state of the party? It has certainly taught us one thing: they don’t make them like Thatcher anymore.
I agreed with the projections of commentators that Truss’s plans were either ‘brilliant or bonkers’. Cutting taxes, whilst simultaneously blowing £100 billion on the Energy Price Guarantee was always going to be a case of burning the candle at both ends. Gaining support for questionable policies like these depends on selling your policies correctly. And this was not achieved either – unsurprisingly, given the dire financial predictions of the British economy should the plans be implemented.
So, the policies were bonkers. Truss wasn’t Thatcher reincarnated. And the Conservative Party – indeed the country as a whole – appears to be in tatters.
True, the Conservatives are in trouble. Their future is uncertain. Having governed for 12 years and counting, the British people are clearly getting sick and tired of austerity, Brexit, scandals and underperformance.
What’s more, the party is becoming increasingly undemocratic. By the end of the week, there will have been four leadership elections in six years. And only two of the leaders, as it stands, will have actually had an elected mandate.
Moreover, the next Prime Minister will be chosen in one week. This suggests that the decision will either be made by 360-odd Conservative MPs, or Conservative Party members which, assuming they all act with haste, amounts to a couple of hundred-thousand (the exact figure is unknown). Either way, that isn’t overly democratic from the world’s oldest political party.
The future of the Conservative Party is therefore in peril. My current prediction would be a loss in the 2024 general election – how can one predict any other outcome, given this turmoil? From then on, what is required is a rebuilding process. The damage that Liz Truss has inflicted on the party is comparable only to what Tony Blair did to it, from the other side of the chamber, in the 1990s. True, Boris Johnson made some mistakes, but that only made the party unpopular – not totally unelectable.
In 2002, reflecting the Conservatives’ persisting difficulties against Blair’s rampant New Labour, would-be Prime Minister Theresa May declared the need to diffuse the Tories’ image as ‘the nasty party’. Many political commentators argue that David Cameron achieved this upon assuming the leadership in 2005, where he sought a brand of social conservatism that he claimed made him the ‘heir to Blair’.
Of course, that achievement was rather destroyed by Brexit in 48% of the public’s view. But Tory economic credibility was back, Labour were fumbling around with Jeremy Corbyn’s loony lefty brigade, and the Liberal Democrats dropped off the face of a cliff post-Nick Clegg.
Brexit threatened Conservative Britain. But, of all people, it was Boris Johnson who pulled through for the party. Blasting through that wall on a digger to “Get Brexit Done” was exactly what people wanted to see. Especially because, over three years on from the referendum, people were getting bored of hearing about Brussels – a term usually uttered only at the Christmas dinner table.
Now, the Tories are back to square one. Truss somehow achieved the feat of proving even more divisive than Boris, even though the latter technically broke his own laws.
So, what lies ahead for the Conservatives?
Well, I presume Rishi Sunak will throw his hat back in the ring for the keys to Number 10. A Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt combination has a stabilising scent of moderation and one-nationism. That’s what the nations needs now.
But the nation also needs a warrior. So, perhaps the biggest story will, once again, be Boris Johnson. The former Prime Minister has the stage set to make his reference to Cincinnatus a reality. Could Boris be the reincarnation of the Roman ruler who returned to leadership in a crisis?
Liz Truss’s resignation as Prime Minister has sent out shockwaves, the impact of which is yet to be established. What is for certain, however, is that the next Prime Minister has a heck of a job on their hands to save – first and foremost – Britain, and the Conservative Party’s future electoral fortunes.
It shouldn’t take much to defeat the uninspiring Keir ‘Captain Hindsight’ Starmer, but it’s clearly going to need more than Margaret Thatcher’s ghost to make the Conservatives electable again.
Image: Flickr / Number 10