How does this end? That's the question being asked by Tory Members of Parliament as Liz Truss’s government finds itself in turmoil once again. The British prime minister’s decision to ax her chancellor and flip-flop on a plan to ditch the corporation tax has only added to nerves in the Conservative Party as to how sustainable the current situation is in.
It's clear that different wings of the party are incredibly unhappy with the current leadership. Yet Truss is technically safe from challenge for another year. What's more, it's not clear who exactly the party could...
How does this end? That’s the question being asked by Tory Members of Parliament as Liz Truss’s government finds itself in turmoil once again. The British prime minister’s decision to ax her chancellor and flip-flop on a plan to ditch the corporation tax has only added to nerves in the Conservative Party as to how sustainable the current situation is in.
It’s clear that different wings of the party are incredibly unhappy with the current leadership. Yet Truss is technically safe from challenge for another year. What’s more, it’s not clear who exactly the party could agree on. Earlier this month, I wrote for the UK magazine on the scenarios being war-gamed by ministers, MPs and aides.
As talk of an attempt to oust Truss rises once again, it seems like a good time to revisit them and how they meet with the current temperature in the Tory Party.
1. Truss fights on
This was the hope in Downing Street that there would be a Lazarus-style resurrection: the markets will calm down and the energy crisis will ease, which will give Truss the chance to rebuild her standing with the public and the party. “The best-case scenario is we deliver an ambitious set of supply-side reforms that lay the ground work for growth, Labour get more scrutiny and we plow on,” said a close Truss ally earlier this month. This scenario is looking quite optimistic at the moment — given the prime minister’s reduced political capital, many MPs view her as in office, but not in power. However, Truss has shown throughout her career that she is resilient and all the signs are that she plans to dig in. What’s not clear is whether her MPs will give her the time to do that.
2. A caretaker prime minister
This is the idea that a new leader takes over who can guide the country through the turmoil but then shuffle off. Names mentioned in passing include Kit Malthouse, Grant Shapps and Sajid Javid. “It would need to be someone who is not divisive in the party, which narrows the field,” explains one MP. Jeremy Hunt’s promotion to No. 11 means that many MPs on the left of the party are now talking him up as a viable candidate should the Truss project collapse. However, there is little unity in the party — and every single one of these candidates would face internal opposition.
3. The Boris restoration
Could the party conclude this was all a terrible mistake and they should bring back their former leader? It’s technically possible — Boris Johnson is still in the House of Commons and he hasn’t exactly hid his belief that his time in Downing Street was cut short. “I always thought a return was unlikely but not impossible,” says a former colleague. Tory MPs in Red Wall seats have been spooked by the complaints they received from voters after they pushed him out. What’s more, MPs have been alarmed by how Truss has tried to ditch various parts of the 2019 electoral pitch. However, plenty of MPs take the view that an economic crisis is not best suited to Johnson — and the situation that led to his ousting is still raw. “I can’t have resigned from government to then vote to get him back in,” says one former cabinet minister.
4. Rishi by Christmas
Johnson skeptics in the party think the alternative is obvious: Sunak, currently the bookmakers’ favourite to replace Truss. As his allies do not tire of pointing out, he predicted much of the chaos: the surging mortgage rates, the crashing pound, the markets taking fright at unbalanced budgets. It’s gaining enough traction to splash the Times of London this week — with the idea of a joint Rishi Sunak-Penny Mordaunt ticket. However, while the return of Sunak is popular among Tory MPs who placed him first in the last leadership ballot, it is viewed with heavy skepticism by Johnson and Truss backers. Michael Fabricant is among the MPs to take to Tory WhatsApp today to trash the idea of such a coronation. It could also land badly with parts of the Tory grassroots — given the membership already rejected him in favor of Truss. “We can’t thrust on the grassroots a candidate they rejected,” says one senior Tory.
5. A general election
This option never made it into my original piece on the four scenarios MPs were discussing. However, the sheer level of division in the Tory party means some are wondering if an election will come sooner rather than later. The fixed term parliament act is no more — but one could potentially be brought in a no confidence vote. Ultimately Tory MPs would need to vote for no confidence alongside the opposition parties or at the very least abstain. That seems unlikely. Not least because all the polling points to a massive majority for Labour. However, if the party cannot unite behind any leader, there could be government paralysis which will only mean the calls for a snap poll grow.
Each outcome involves trade-offs and desperate moves but that the party is even considering them points to the dire situation it is now in.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.