Liz Truss will go down in history as Britain’s shortest serving prime minister. How did we get here and what happens next?
“Mr Speaker, I am a fighter and not a quitter…”Liz Truss
That was Liz Truss less than 24 hours before making her final u-turn as prime minister…
“I have therefore spoken to HM the king to notify him that I am resigning as leader of the Conservative Party.”Liz Truss
I’m Claudia and this is the Sensemaker from Tortoise.
Today… how Liz Truss became Britain’s shortest serving prime minister… and what happens next.
Never before has a prime minister gone up against a vegetable… and lost. On Monday the 11th of October, the Economist magazine memorably called Liz Truss “the Iceberg lady” and wrote:
“However long she now lasts in office, she is set to be remembered as the prime minister whose grip on power was the shortest […] Take away the ten days of mourning after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, and she had seven days in control. That is roughly the shelf-life of a lettuce.”The Economist
The Daily Star newspaper took the joke and ran with it. They set up a round-the-clock live-stream of an iceberg lettuce – complete with googly eyes. Thousands tuned in to watch.
But that wasn’t even the most surreal part of the past week in British politics.
After sacking her friend and chancellor in the wake of the disastrous mini-budget Liz Truss appointed Jeremy Hunt to steady the ship – and on Monday he did just that, by dismantling her whole political project.
It was such a humiliation that some expected Liz Truss’s next outing in the House of Commons – at Wednesday’s prime minister’s questions – could be enough to end her premiership.
But she did just enough to hold on a little longer…
“Mr Speaker, I have been very clear… Mr Speaker… That I am sorry and that I have made mistakes.”Liz Truss
The prime minister’s supporters rallied around her, but another moment of peril wasn’t far away.
Later that day the home secretary Suella Braverman resigned and sent a scathing letter saying she had concerns about the direction of the government.
And by the evening it seemed like everyone except Liz Truss knew the game was up – after chaos in the House of Commons.
A planned vote on fracking was billed as a confidence vote in her government… until suddenly, it wasn’t anymore… causing confusion amongst Conservative MPs.
“I’m not entirely clear on what the situation is with the Chief Whip.”Jacob Rees-Mogg MP
“There was a group, including several cabinet ministers, who were basically shouting at them, and at least one member was physically pulled through the door into the lobby…”Chris Bryant MP
“It’s a shambles and it’s a disgrace… I think it is utterly appalling.”Charles Walker MP
From that point onwards the support she still had drained away. On Thursday morning, Sir Graham Brady, chair of the committee that represents backbench MPs, entered Number 10 to discuss how she’d stand down.
At 1.30pm the prime minister offered her resignation – with a short speech in Downing Street.
“I recognise, though, that I cannot… I have therefore spoken to HM the king to notify him that I am resigning as leader of the Conservative Party.”Liz Truss
As the country’s 56th prime minister resigned, twenty thousand people tuned in live to watch the lettuce celebrating its victory with a Greggs sausage roll… and the national anthem blaring in the background.
Liz Truss’s time as prime minister was shorter than the leadership contest that got her elected, but the one to replace her will last just one week.
“This morning I met the Chair of the 1992 Committee, Sir Graham Brady. We’ve agreed that there will be a leadership election, to be completed within the next week.”Liz Truss
I’m joined by Cat Neilan…
Claudia: I’m joined by Cat Neilan, who is Tortoise’s political editor. Cat – Liz Truss has resigned as Conservative leader, but she is going to remain prime minister until the party has elected a new one. So what sort of contest is this going to be?
Cat Neilan: Well, it’s going to be – thankfully, for all our sakes – a lot shorter than the last one. This is going to be done and dusted by this time next Friday, so just over a week today. It may even be sooner than that, if there’s only one candidate. So what we have just heard is that all MPs wishing to stand need to have secured 100 backers by Monday, and depending on how many there are that threshold means the most there can be is three. But it may well be that that there’s only one.
In simultaneously the least and most surprising news of the day, Boris Johnson is likely to be making a comeback, and that has set the hares running. And so we are seeing all over social media, a yet again deeply divided Conservative party. Half of the people seem to be saying “bring back Boris” – the other half seem to be saying “ready for Rishi”. There’s also a small number of people who still favour Penny Mordaunt, but it seems likely at this stage that the two candidates most likely to get to the membership stage – if that is a stage – is Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak.
Claudia: How damaging could this be for the party?
Cat: Boris Johnson has, sort of, managed to paper over the cracks in the past. And keep this very fractious party, that is quite deeply divided, just about going. So it’s possible that he could actually bring them back together. However, it is equally possible that we could see some real divisions tip over into the public sphere. There are people talking about resignations, about defections to Labour – and that is just from the Conservative MPs.
Claudia: It’s obviously been a chaotic few weeks, and where are those who would point out that we’ve had two Conservative leadership elections since the 2019 election and must be thinking “is now the time to have another general election”. What are the chances of that happening?
Cat: Slim to none, I would say. The Conservatives hold the power on that side and the polls are very, very bad for them at the minute. 200-odd Mps would lose their seats, including Boris Johnson. So no, I don’t think they’re going to open it up to the public just yet. What they are banking on is that the economy gets better, memories fade of the last few months, and Boris Johnson – the campaigners – rides to the rescue.
This episode was produced by Rebecca Moore, Lewis Vickers and Claudia Williams.
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