In the week before the not-so-mini Budget, a key Liz Truss supporter shared their assessment of the Government: “This is the Icarus government. Either it works or it doesn’t and it will be pretty clear soon enough.”

After the Prime Minister spent her Friday sacking her Chancellor and long-standing ally Kwasi Kwarteng, reversing on a key leadership pledge by hiking corporation tax and appointing a new Chancellor from the other side of the party, it’s fair to say that the evidence is firmly pointing towards the latter.

Truss’s government came in all guns blazing – promising to tear up decades of Treasury orthodoxy and deliver low taxes come what may. Just over a month in having flown too close to the sun, the Prime Minister has had to retreat – watering down her promises, appointing an establishment figure as Treasury permanent secretary and turning on those who have offered her loyalty and unwavering support.

Her political capital has dwindled and MPs are openly fighting about how long she can last – and who ought to replace her. The mood in the party is nothing short of poisonous. “It’s over,” says a former minister. “She is probably going to stagger around a bit before she keels over.” A serving minister isn’t much more optimistic: ‘The only thing that is keeping people together is there’s no agreement on what next.” Discussions are underway as to who could replace the prime minister at short notice.

But for all the talk of an imminent coup, senior Tories are unsure how exactly this ends. What is clear is that Truss’s premiership is over in the sense of what she – and her key supporters – wanted it to be. The radicalism and the talk of change have not survived contact with reality. The mood among her longstanding allies is bleak: “I fear it’s terminal,” says a government aide. Even if she now manages to stick around and push through some supply side reform in her bid for economic growth it will be a watered down version of her original plans.

Whoever took over from Boris Johnson was always going to face an uphill battle – but the speed of Truss’s fall from grace is striking. Unforced errors on the not-so-mini-budget mean many Tory MPs view her premiership as over before it began. ‘It feels like Theresa May after the 2017 snap election – she’s in office but not in power,’ says a former minister.

It has meant Truss has quickly found herself in “no good option” territory. It helps to explain her decision to sack her Kwarteng. He was not only a loyal colleague but a good friend and her neighbour, part of the so-called Greenwich set. In the initial days after the not-so-mini Budget, the idea of axing Kwarteng to gain credibility was floated – but Truss gave it short shrift. “She was completely opposed to the idea,” recalls a close confidante.

The fact that she eventually decided it was the right course points to the peril she is in. The hope was that it would calm the markets. However, the painful press conference in which Truss failed to explain why Kwarteng was going when the fiscal event was as much hers as his has just brought back concerns about this government’s credibility.

“She shouldn’t have sacked Kwasi,” says a loyalist MP. “It’s made it worse. Her government looks more unstable now”. What’s more, it doesn’t exactly send the signal that loyalty pays off – plenty of MPs are horrified at the brutality of the sacking of a so-called friend.

The decision to bring in Jeremy Hunt has been welcomed in some quarters. MPs on the one nation wing of the party take it as a course corrective to her first reshuffle where the bulk of jobs went to loyalists. Yet the fundamentals remain. “To wilfully tank the economy and make the UK a global joke in your first six weeks is irrecoverable,” says one Tory MP. It’s also upset MPs on the right of the party – who backed Truss to shake things up. With the U-turns on key policy and appointments, they feel they have been short-changed. “She’s managing to annoy everyone,” says a member of the government payroll.

Little wonder then that the bulk of the chatter in the party relates to succession. Conservative MPs are bickering with one another in their WhatsApp group. Reports that there are efforts underway to install a joint ticket of Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt into No 10 and No 11 have landed like a lead balloon with MPs on the right of the party. Michael Fabricant and Nadine Dorries are among those to see red and criticise those colleagues behind the efforts.

It’s why for all the current misery, it’s still uncertain as to how this all ends and whether Truss is forced out. There is a view among MPs that if the party does try to change the rules and oust Truss (she is technically safe from challenge for a year), it would need to be a coronation whereby the membership does not get to pick between a final two. This makes some MPs uncomfortable. “If we cut out the membership and then install Rishi who they rejected, the grassroots will go mad,” predicts one Tory MP.

Plus there’s a new straw in the wind with the return of Hunt to government. The former foreign secretary has run twice for leadership and both times failed. He clearly harbours ambitions for the top job. Kwarteng sought to neutralise No 11 and make it work for, rather than against, No 10. In the end, he was sacked. Hunt could now use the job to build his own power base.

“The chance of Hunt as caretaker prime minister have just gone up,” was one minister’s assessment. The only certainty? The political drama is not over yet.

QOSHE - The Conservative Party's Liz Truss project is over - Katy Balls
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The Conservative Party's Liz Truss project is over

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14.10.2022

In the week before the not-so-mini Budget, a key Liz Truss supporter shared their assessment of the Government: “This is the Icarus government. Either it works or it doesn’t and it will be pretty clear soon enough.”

After the Prime Minister spent her Friday sacking her Chancellor and long-standing ally Kwasi Kwarteng, reversing on a key leadership pledge by hiking corporation tax and appointing a new Chancellor from the other side of the party, it’s fair to say that the evidence is firmly pointing towards the latter.

Truss’s government came in all guns blazing – promising to tear up decades of Treasury orthodoxy and deliver low taxes come what may. Just over a month in having flown too close to the sun, the Prime Minister has had to retreat – watering down her promises, appointing an establishment figure as Treasury permanent secretary and turning on those who have offered her loyalty and unwavering support.

Her political capital has dwindled and MPs are openly fighting about how long she can last – and who ought to replace her. The mood in the party is nothing short of poisonous. “It’s over,” says a former minister. “She is probably going to stagger around a bit before she keels over.” A serving minister isn’t much more optimistic: ‘The only thing that is keeping people together is there’s no agreement on what next.” Discussions........

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