With unprecedented chaos in Parliament, can the Truss administration survive?
By Joshua Taggart
It’s been quite a term so far for Liz Truss. Only 44 days into her premiership and we have seen the most extraordinary scenes in Westminster as the Truss administration has set off from the starting block and straight towards a colossal iceberg. The nation – and the Conservative Party – is now bracing for impact.
Last night, the Prime Minister’s situation went from bad to worse to catastrophic. As the Labour Party brought forward a motion on banning fracking, the Government decided to use this as a three-line whip confidence vote. Due to a lack of communication and clarity – which continues today – there was confusion in the division lobbies, with reports that the Chief and Deputy Chief Whip had even resigned from their posts (though they have now ‘unresigned’ as of a text at 1:30am).
This chaos was compounded by the resignation of the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, earlier in the day over a ministerial email being sent outside government using a personal email address, although the true conflict appears to be immigration, with Truss hoping to relax the rules to support the internal labour market. Her replacement is Grant Shapps, a supporter of Rishi Sunak and a backbench critic of the Truss Government’s economic strategy. Unconfirmed reports suggest Shapps had been moving against Truss as recently as this weekend. If the Truss Government was meant to appear more stable by appointing an outright critic to a senior office of state, it has left many scratching their heads.
40 Conservative MPs rebelled against the Government last night and anywhere between 50 and 100 letters of no confidence have already been submitted to the Chair of the 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady. This number is expected to increase. The 1922 Committee will meet today to discuss the way forward – Conservative Party rules would need to be changed to allow for a confidence vote in the Prime Minister within 12 months of the beginning of her tenure. However, considering how much disappointment and anger there is within the Party, that could be set to change.
To consider possible scenarios, should the Conservative Parliamentary Party bring forward a vote of no confidence, Truss would be in extreme jeopardy. It’s also possible that party officials and senior Parliamentarians might encourage a more informal transfer of power, gently pushing Truss to quit of her own accord and install a new party leader and PM without having to repeat the traumas and tribulations of the summer’s leadership contest. Such a transfer of leadership would certainly be quicker and cleaner but would doubtless expose the Party to fresh calls for a general election.
Conversely, there are some suggestions that ministers will attempt to hold the Government together until the Medium-Term Fiscal Plan is announced on 31st October. However, given the extraordinary scenes in Parliament last night, with reports of a physical fracas and a Conservative MP delivering an excoriating analysis of his colleagues and the current government from the Central Lobby in Parliament, 31st October remains a long time away.
The Prime Minister’s strategy in the last week has been to replace senior cabinet positions with Sunak supporters in an effort to calm financial markets and appease the centre-left of the Conservative Party. This began with replacing Kwasi Kwarteng with Jeremy Hunt, which quelled financial markets but left the agenda and ideology of the current Government as clear as mud. If more changes are made to placate the moderates, attempts to steady the ship may result in even greater levels of confusion. Contrary to the late Margaret Thatcher, not only is the current Lady for turning, but turning and turning often.
It is difficult to make reliable predictions about the next steps, but it is clear that the Truss administration is on very shaky ground, and Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party enjoys a comfortable lead in the polls at 33 points. Notably, the latter continues to encourage Conservative MPs to tread with extreme caution about taking the country to the polls at this point in time. As long as Starmer can keep his Shadow Cabinet in line and control the left wing of his party, Labour can expect little resistance on the road to No. 10. His recent removal of his chief of staff in order to put Labour on an ‘election footing’ signals that he means business.
On the other side of the aisle, the Conservative Party crashes and burns in a different manner on an almost hourly basis. It seems abundantly clear that incumbency syndrome has set into the Tory DNA: after 12 years in power, they simply cannot figure out what they want or believe in, and internal frictions are doing far more damage than the Opposition ever did. As it stands, if Starmer is to take the keys to No.10, he will do so less out of his own skill and opportunism and more out of the dissolution of the country’s oldest political tribe. Out with the old, in with the New New Labour – maybe?