Truss falls, new UK PM likely in days
Truss’ turbulent weeks in office earned her the record of becoming the UK’s shortest-serving prime minister after lasting just 45 days in the job. The record was previously held by George Canning, who was PM for 119 days. His reason for quitting was that he died whilst in office in August 1827. Truss will remain PM till a successor is chosen as early as next week.
Despite dressing like Margaret Thatcher and positioning herself as faithful to Tory principles, Truss quickly became a pitiful and isolated figure — disowned by her own allies after her “Kami-Kwasi” budget of unfunded tax cuts sent the markets into turmoil, causing the pound to crash and sending her premiership and the British economy into chaos. The mini budget that she and her then chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, drew up September 23 led to an intervention from the Bank of England and stinging criticism from both the International Monetary Fund and from US President Joe Biden, and led to ratings agencies downgrading the UK’s credit outlook to negative.
Truss lost two occupants of the four Great Offices of State in the space of six days. On Wednesday Goan-origin home secretary Suella Braverman quit or was sacked, ostensibly over a ministerial code breach, but in fact it was over a row over immigration strategy. Kwarteng, the UK’s first black chancellor, was sacked for his mini-budget fiasco after cutting short a trip to the US last Friday. The loss of both cabinet ministers and their replacements made her once historically diverse cabinet much less so. But now, among those seen as frontrunners for PM, is former chancellor Rishi Sunak.
Losing such senior ministers after less than two months in the job added to the political instability engulfing Britain (French President Emmanuel Macron had commented that he hoped stability would return to the UK).
Things came to a head for Truss on Wednesday night when MPs were voting on a Labour motion on fracking and it was unclear whether it was a motion of confidence in Truss or not. The chaos led to rumours the chief whip and deputy whip had quit and allegations of some MPs being manhandled as they were ushered into the voting lobby.
Truss did choreograph her handling of the Queen’s death well. And as international trade secretary, she had played a pivotal role in negotiating the UK-India trade deal.
Not one Conservative newspaper was backing Truss as she entered her final excruciating few days in office. At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, where she looked like a single rabbit forcibly taken into a field of foxes, leader of the opposition Sir Keir Starmer began saying: “A book is being written about the prime minister’s time in office. Apparently it is going to be out by Christmas. Is that the release date or the title?”
Truss kept to her mantra: that she wanted to “get on with the job and deliver for the British people”. “I am a fighter not a quitter,” she said. By this point she was under the complete control of Jeremy Hunt, the new chancellor – the second in less than two months — who represented the exact “orthodox Treasury” she had said she despised.
A live feed was duly positioned on a green lettuce called Lizzy Lettuce, to see if it could outlast Truss. The lettuce remained strong and put up a fight as Truss’s power rapidly wilted.
As the week progressed there was a bizarre moment when Penny Mordaunt, leader of the House of Commons, was forced to tell a Labour MP that “the prime minister was not under a desk” when she failed to show up to an urgent question.
On Thursday morning Truss had already handed her notice to the King before appearing before the podium outside No. 10 alongside her husband. In her resignation speech, putting on a confident air, she said she had set out a vision for a low-tax, high-growth economy — one that would take advantage of the freedoms of Brexit — and that she was elected by the Conservative Party with a mandate to change this but she recognised she could not deliver the mandate on which she had been elected.
She had earlier met the “men in grey suits” — one of whom was Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, which represents Tory backbenchers and organises the leadership contest. Newspapers had been reporting for days on gatherings of senior Tory MPs plotting how to oust her. One particular group of plotters, said to include Sailesh Vara MP, had gathered over a Vindaloo curry meal this week.
Truss said: “We have agreed there will be a leadership election to be completed in the next week .This will ensure we remain on a path to deliver our fiscal plans and maintain our country’s economic stability and national security.”
There was little reaction from the markets as they had already factored in her resignation days earlier as imminent.
Truss drove her net favourability score to minus 70%, making it the lowest recorded by YouGov in its two decades of polling.
Labour is now leading the Conservatives by 36 points, the biggest margin for any party since 1997.
MP Charles Walker said on Wednesday night the whole affair was a “pitiful reflection of the Conservative party at every level. This is a shambles and a disgrace. I have had enough of talentless people and I speak for 100s of backbenchers.” A video of his comment was then swiftly used as an advert by the Labour party.