It wasn’t meant to be like this. In a time of crisis, a prime minister’s address to the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers tends to follow a certain pattern. Beforehand, there is talk of how the beleaguered leader will face a hostile crowd, but invariably such dissenters that turn up are drowned out by supporters braying and banging the furniture. The leader emerges if not triumphant, then at least to a consensus that they will live to fight another day.
Not so last night. Liz Truss – who had requested the opportunity to speak to her colleagues as part of her love-bombing efforts – faced an undeniably tough crowd. Michael Gove, troublemaker-in-chief, was among the many Sunak supporters to file past journalists loitering in Parliament’s committee corridor. But there were also Trussites. Once inside, the banging, apparently led by party chairman Jake Berry, was ostentatiously loud.
Once MPs began to surface, however, the departure from normality became clear. How had it been?
“Abysmal,” came the verdict from one. “Funereal,” came another. A third scored his level of happiness: “Subzero.” While Gove had mostly sat back and observed, say eyewitnesses, backbench colleague Rob Halfon had been “politely devastating”, telling the prime minister she had trashed blue-collar Conservatism.
In the wake of market turmoil and a refusal to acknowledge responsibility, even some Truss supporters are now suffering buyer’s remorse.
Having concluded that the status quo leads to the worst possible outcome, MPs are now discussing what they do about it. The Economist this week compared her lifespan as a leader to that of a lettuce. Conservative MPs are being more generous – but only just.
The one-year grace period prohibiting challenges is “entirely academic”, one MP put it. But there is no appetite for another drawn-out leadership contest involving members. To circumvent that, Tories must find their elusive unity figure. The potential for electoral wipeout is focusing minds.
More market turmoil, a bad scorecard from the OBR come 31 October or, as everyone expects, a drubbing at the local elections next spring, all provide a trigger. Even a U-turn on tax cuts seems unlikely to save her now. As one former minister put it, “a week is a long time in the markets”.
Having ostracised two-thirds of her MPs – the only constituency that matters currently – one compared Truss’ current situation to “Mrs May, but without the sympathy”. But while her predecessor clung on for many months, there are few who think Truss will last as long.
Who chooses the PM?
This week Tortoise submitted an application for Judicial Review of the Conservative party’s refusal to disclose information about the way it chose Britain’s new prime minister.
Given the radical change in direction the new PM has brought to government, it’s our view that it is even more important the British public know who put her in power – and that the process was secure. Read the supporting documents here.