Three years after his defeat to Boris Johnson in the Conservative Party leadership election, Jeremy Hunt has finally become Prime Minister – or at least, he is now running the country. Liz Truss’ credibility has been so violently shredded that she no longer holds authority within her own government. Sacking the Chancellor and rolling back her mini-budget – a budget that she was just as responsible for crafting – may keep her in post for now, but she has already lost her job. Removing her Chancellor is not enough, and the MPs must act swiftly to remove her too.
Every one of the major proposals in her budget has been rolled back. The top rate of tax cut, axed; stopping the corporation tax rise, abandoned; raising benefits in line with inflation will be next. This afternoon, she stood at the same twisted wooden lectern that she had when taking office less than 6 weeks ago but this time it was to announce the most humiliating walk-back ever uttered by a prime minister. It aimed to save her job, but it has left her premiership even more unviable than it was before and with a government run by the Treasury and a collection of prudent backbench MPs to restore faith in the British economy.
Unlike Margaret Thatcher, Truss’ great idol, the lady was for turning, and she swivelled on her heels and walked out of the Downing Street briefing room just 9 minutes after she had entered. After taking just four questions from the gaggle of journalists that make up the Number 10 lobby, she performed an about-turn almost as stark as the one she had just done on her mini-budget and left the briefing room seemingly mid-sentence. A chorus of noise erupted from the press pack with an audible shout of “will you apologise?”.
But it is too late for her. The government is now being run by a senior figure in the government who is not the prime minister; the first time this has happened since Sir Robert Walpole became the first primus inter pares, or first among equals, that gives the prime minister their power. That is not a serious tenable position for the Conservative Party to be in.
The government’s keys have been handed to a power base that sits outside of Cabinet and is represented by Jeremy Hunt in the Treasury. He is a figure who will now set the tone of government policy as the representative of a group of senior backbench MPs who have challenged her policy, many of whom she called colleagues in the Cameron and May governments. Liz Truss will have to stand up, weekly, at Prime Minister Questions and in other speeches and interviews, to promote, support, and defend policies that she quite clearly doesn’t believe in.
Her promises in the leadership election failed, but rolling back on them has left her a premier without a purpose. What is the point of a Liz Truss premiership without the policies she was aiming to implement? There isn’t one, except to be insulated by her new Chancellor from causing more political damage as the party limps towards electoral oblivion – whenever that day comes.
To cauterise the bloodflow, she should be removed from office; a day might come soon. Liz Truss may remain in office for days, or weeks, or months, but she will not remain until the next election. She cannot credibly remain in office without remaining in power, that is not a position that can last. Boris Johnson was left in that position by a litany of resignations within a short space of time. Power was vacuous in Number 10 and he was forced to resign the following day. Theresa May was left in a similar position just three years earlier.
Liz Truss’ power vacuum occurred just a month into the job, but the power has quite clearly left Number 10 never to return under her leadership. It now resides in Number 11 with the new Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, who faces an uphill battle to restore enough credibility in the government for the Conservative Party to continue governing until the next election. Credibility that will continue to drain every time a powerless prime minister steps up to speak.
The most viable solution is for the party to replace her now and promise a general election in May 2023. Allow a more stable, moderate and suitable prime minister to take charge, restore faith in the British economy, and try to mend some of the disastrous polling that Liz Truss has garnered for her party.
They will likely still face a defeat, but it may be a less disastrous one. If Truss remains, power and the Conservative Party’s polling numbers, will continue to drain, leading her party into a defeat so stark it makes 1997 feel painless. From there, the party can begin to rebuild.