Chances of PM Liz Truss surviving the week improve

Chances of PM Liz Truss surviving the week improve

British Prime Minister Liz Truss seems to have a better chance of surviving the week now as she prepares for today’s Prime Minister’s Question Time.

She is due before the dispatch at noon for only her third time as Conservative Party leader.

At the end of last week her leadership was described as “hanging by a thread”. However, things seem much calmer now.

The markets have improved since Jeremy Hunt took over as Chancellor of the Exchequer and applied some traditional accounting to the government’s economic plans.

Truss has had meetings with two wings of the party – the centrist One Nation group on Monday and the right-wing European Research Group last night – which have both gone reasonably well, according to reports.

Jeremy Hunt is the de facto leader for the moment

One of the things that will be watched today is the reception she gets from Tory backbenchers in her head-to-head with Labour leader Keir Starmer.

Conservatives will not need much encouragement to cheer her as she inevitably tries to focus on supposed defects in Labour policy. They would relish the opportunity to turn the fire on the opposition after the week their party has had.

And her MPs will be hoping that there is no repeat of her last question time a week ago where she ruled out cuts to public spending to make up for her planned tax reductions.

After that things did start to unravel as it seemed clear that the government’s sums simply did not add up.

Starmer will be pointing out the massive U-turn that has taken place with the new chancellor now talking of cutbacks and financial decisions of “eye-watering difficulty”. The Labour leader will no doubt ask the Prime Minister to explain that.

Starmer will also be focusing on what these cuts will mean for voters, particularly the less well off.

However, he will have to be careful because as much as this is a test for Truss so too is it for the Labour leader. If he lets this chance slip to underline what his party believes is the Conservative Party’s inherent unfitness for power, then he will be the one who will be damaged.

He will also have to be careful not to come across as too harsh to an opponent who is so obviously reeling.

Keir Starmer
PMQs will be a test for Keir Starmer as well as for Liz Truss

During the first Conservative party leadership debates, when Rishi Sunak tried to pull up Liz Truss on her economic policy many observers were more concerned with criticising him for his supposedly domineering and ‘mansplaining’ style than weighing up the debate points he was trying to make.

Most of all, Truss will have the help of calmer markets at her back. The pound has recovered and borrowing costs are down despite the Bank of England ending its bond buying scheme. A crisis has been averted.

If she survives this week then she should survive until the fiscal statement on 31 October but after that it does seem to only be a matter of time before she goes, according to reports from Tory MPs.

Support for her nationally has plummeted and even among Tory members 55% think she should resign, according to a YouGov poll.

However, given that her approval rating is as low as 9% in polling of the general public, it is remarkable that 38% of Tory members believe she should stay on as Prime Minister, according to the same poll.

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak has been mentioned as a potential new leader

And there are real obstacles to removing Truss. Conservative party rules do not allow a motion of no confidence in a leader for one year after they are elected.

However, as we have seen, both Theresa May and Boris Johnson were forced to resign when they were supposed to be protected from no-confidence motions. For the Tories, if most MPs want a leader gone, they will have to go.

The problem is that the MPs do not want another leadership contest which would be divisive and distracting at a time of economic difficulty and when the party is already at a historically low point in the opinion polls.

It would be possible to elect a leader unopposed as happened with Michael Howard in 2003. However, the Conservative Party is so badly divided that it is hard to see a candidate being agreed.

Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt, Ben Wallace, Boris Johnson (the favourite among party members, according to the YouGov poll mentioned above) and even Theresa May have been mentioned as possible new leaders. Combinations of two or more of the above have also been suggested.

For the moment it is Jeremy Hunt who is the de facto leader. In practical terms, Truss does not have the authority to fire him.

The longer Truss stays on, the more Hunt looks like the natural successor.

He was originally an opponent of Brexit – though he later controversially compared the EU to the Soviet Union – and is not trusted by the ERG.

But without any other agreed candidate, he is increasingly looking like the default leader. If some way could be found of him seamlessly taking over, he could then announce a general election for next spring to deal with complaints about his lack of a mandate. It’s one possibility.

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