What went wrong with Liz Truss to leave office ignominiouslytext_fields
On October 20 Liz Truss announced her resignation as leader of the Conservative Party. She is staying on as Prime Minister until such time as a new Conservative leader and therefore PM can be installed. It is estimated that the new PM will be in place by October 28. Truss has the ignominious record of being forced out by a mere 44 days en poste. She was egregiously inept and utterly lost the confidence of the cabinet, the government, the party, Parliament and the people. The message was: in the name of God, go!
WHO WILL BE NEXT?
Gentlemen, place your bets!
Rishi Sunak is the hot favourite to become Prime Minister. They give him a 50% chance of winning. He was conspicuous by his absence at the Conservative Conference earlier this month. He has since been a virtual recluse. He did not publicly castigate Truss lest he is accused of disloyalty. Nor indeed did he advocate for governmental policies which he knew to be calamitous. He was therefore in strictest purdah.
In the August leadership election, Rishi won the MPs leg of the race. He carried 45% of the MPs' votes. But in the final round before ordinary members, he lost. Some ordinary members and MPs cannot forgive him for felling Boris Johnson. But others say he never did a better day's public service than when his resignation as Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister) brought down Johnson. As proxime accessit in August, he would have the greatest legitimacy if the election were to be uncontested by others.
If Rishi becomes PM, he will be the first non-white PM. It shall be huge news in India: An Indian-origin PM of the former colonial master. He shall not be the last British Indian PM.
Penny Mordaunt is second placed. Bookies give her a 31% chance of becoming PM. For a week there have been rumours in the newspapers that she and Rishi were plotting together against Truss. A proper PM would have sacked Penny for conspiring against her. But Liz Truss' position was so feeble that she dared not lose another cabinet minister.
If there is a pact between Rishi and Penny, it will be along the lines of her not standing and then Rishi will let her pick any cabinet job she wants. It could be Deputy Prime Minister but people see that as a non-job.
Boris Johnson is touted by some. Can he be the comeback kid? In his valedictory oration from the steps of Downing Street in September, he said he was like Cincinnatus returning to his plough. Classicists among you will have recognized the allusion: Cincinnatus was recalled from his farm to become a leader again in a moment of crisis. BoJo may think people will him already.
When he stepped down as PM the situation declined vertiginously. But much of the public remains furious with him for his incessant lying and lawbreaking. Do not forget even most of his own cabinet could not abide with him in July. There has been no Tory leader who has been forced out only to be re-summoned.
Kemi Badenoch is mentioned by some. She came 4th in the Conservative leadership election. But bookies rate her at 2%.
Ben Wallace is the Defence Secretary and the toast of the party faithful. But he is personally unambitious. The Ukraine Conflict has made him a daily fixture on the news. He has so far excluded any possibility of seeking the top job.
Jeremy Hunt would be a very credible candidate. He was the runner-up in 2019. In 2022 he came 8th out of 8 candidates. He is now Chancellor and the UK does not need a 5th Chancellor in just 3 months. The United Kingdom needs continuity.
Suella Braverman would have been a possibility but she resigned as Home Secretary on October 19. This was over a misdemeanour – sending an official email via a private account. She cannot very well resign one day and become PM the next. But she could still have a very big political future.
Some of the riders from the August race were mentioned such as Nadhim Zahawi and Tom Tugendhat. Other big beasts are not even being mentioned such as Priti Patel or Dominic Raab who once held high office.
HOW WILL THE ELECTION WORK?
Candidates have to get 100 MPs to be nominated. There are 358 Tory MPs so a maximum of 3 candidates. The party is keen to move on swiftly from this debacle. If there is a sole candidate, then he or she will win by default when nominations close at 2 pm on Monday.
The party would prefer an unopposed election. It achieved this when it booted out Iain Duncan Smith in 2003. A contested election could still be done quickly with online hustings and online voting within a week.
The speed with which Liz Truss was kicked out surprised me. The situation had improved since a new Chancellor had been appointed. A new statement was due on the economy on 31 October. It was possible that she would be allowed to stay on at least till then. Moreover, it would have allowed the men in grey suits to make an arrangement about a unity candidate and cajole others into not standing. The party does not want another messy contest.
Methought that the party would only force Liz out when it had an exit strategy. But the party's ratings had deteriorated so steeply and so much that the party felt compelled to defenestrate her forthwith. She was summoned to a meeting of the 1922 Committee: the committee that represents backbench Conservative MPs. They informed her in no uncertain terms: the party's over.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
Liz Truss is emotionally retarded. There is a disconnection in her mind. There is a curious ability she has to pivot from one polar opposite position to another without suffering any discomposure. She has a flat affect.
See a video of Truss aged 19 calling for the abolition of the monarchy. She was animated and genuine. 28 years on and she is robotic but inefficient.
Truss won the Tory grassroots by promising to slash taxes, borrow more and give people a lot of money to cover rising fuel bills. Truss said she could unilaterally shred the Northern Ireland Protocol and not suffer any repercussions. Rishi said it was economically illiterate. He was dead right.
Liz was telling right-wing fairy tales. But the blue rinse believed it.
On Truss' leadership site when she won it said ''I will hit the ground.'' She then went back and amended it to; ''I will hit the ground running'' But no: she kept her first promise not her second! It was emblematic of a hideously disorganized and ill-thought-through leadership.
Miss Truss promised to be a leader to reunite the party after a bruising leadership contest. But once ensconced in the premiership she reneged on this. She did the exact opposite and appointed fellow ideologues. These free market zealots were from her wing of the party. Leaders sometimes do that but it is wrong when a leader has campaigned on the basis that she would not do this. There was almost a total clear-out of the cabinet.
Truss refused to speak to the First Minister of Scotland. She has made the breakup of the UK more likely. She offended the President of France. She also ensured that the USA would not offer a better trade deal. That is a lot of failure in just 4 weeks. Her hard work in achieving failure that fast was really rather impressive.
Two days after Truss took over the Queen died. Of fright? It fell to Truss to lead the tributes. She paid homage to the Queen with egregious ineptitude. Epideictic oratory is not easy but she struck a bum not. Contrast her with Tony Blair, lip atremble, as he paid tribute to Princess Diana. Blair's speech may have had some falsity to it but most said it was pitch-perfect.
As soon as the royal obsequies were finished it was back to business. The markets did not like the mini-budget. The Pound sank to its lowest level in 230 years. The Conservative Party's rating sank to 19%. It was the lowest ever. EVER! That was within a month of her announcing the mini-budget. Truss's approval rating was – 70%! Only 10% of people approved of her. Bear in mind that even in annus horribilis for the Tory Party 31% of people voted for it.
The party was at panic stations. The party won 4 elections on the trot. You cannot win them all. The party accepts that. But it does not accept extinction. By October the party was staring that in the face. By current rating Truss, Johnson and others would lose their seats. This was damage limitation. The party will surely lose in 2024 but with a decent leader, it shall not be annihilated. But before Labour was due to win more of the vote than anyone since 1931.
Truss could not make any explicative statement about why her budget would work. She was reduced to mouthing platitudes about growth. These were not substantive. She had to parry every question without panache. There is little evidence that slashing taxes leads to higher growth. She did not want to cut spending and indeed was going to increase it in defence and on fuel bills support. It did not add up.
The Tory reputation for fiscal stewardship was shot. Truss was a poor communicator. One of her special advisors had to be suspended over a scandal. All was fret and dysfunction. What medication is she on? I will have some of that! She was preternaturally tranquil despite the mounting chaos surrounding her.
Soon some of her own MPs were calling for her to stand down. She tried to be Maggie Thatcher. But the iron lady she was not. She was Canute against the tide.
The economic news was so bleak that Truss was forced into a humiliating volte-face. She summoned back her Chancellor and demanded that he resign. This was scapegoating him. This bought her time but she frittered it away.
There were farcical scenes when the Chief Whip resigned and then withdrew his resignation within hours. It was chaotic but not creative.
Appointing Jeremy Hunt was her only sure move. This was widely welcomed.
Truss had no idea and had few firm friends. She was uninspiring and uncharismatic. It is staggering that she got so far.
When Truss resigned her speech was as if she was talking about the weather. Her unemotional style might be welcome. But somehow this did not make her objective.
Here end the career of the 3rd woman to have been PM. This will make it easier for the 4th woman. Soon a female PM will be unremarkable. That is perhaps the only service she performed.
The Author is a UK-based political analyst. He can be watched on YouTube: George from Ireland