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17 October 2022

How long can Liz Truss survive?

The Prime Minister’s position is ever more fragile but Tory MPs have yet to unite around a candidate to replace her.

By Rachel Wearmouth

The question swirling around Westminster today is not whether Liz Truss can survive in Downing Street, but whether her premiership will last the week.

All signs suggest mutinous MPs are preparing to strike. The beleaguered Prime Minister will today meet with her cabinet, and her new Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, will make a snap statement in the House of Commons. Hunt is expected to bring forward measures from the medium-term fiscal plan in a bid to calm the markets. The long-awaited forecast from the independent Office for Budget Responsibility will be published on 31 October.

Hunt, who met Truss at Chequers for crisis talks last week, has told the BBC that he will make “very difficult decisions, both on spending and on tax”. That he is advancing the medium-term fiscal plan, underlines how scared the government is of the ongoing market turmoil, with ministers pulled from broadcast interviews this morning.

Billions of pounds of tax rises and spending cuts are expected, including another U-turn on cutting the basic rate of tax, which was introduced by Kwasi Kwarteng.

In 2020, Boris Johnson vowed there would be no return to austerity but briefings over the weekend suggest that not even the defence or NHS budget will escape cuts. Reportedly, the OBR is understood to have identified a £72bn black hole in the nation’s finances and Hunt is compelled to do all he can to bring down the cost of government borrowing.

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But it comes as public services are in a desperate position. Hospital waiting lists are at an all-time of seven million patients. Similarly, the backlog of criminal cases in UK courts has hit an unprecedented 61,212.

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Unions have made clear that any attempt to introduce pay restraint, amid double-digit inflation already impacting their members’ salaries, will be met with further industrial action.

Meanwhile, the governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, has told people to anticipate a higher-than-expected interest rate rise.

All of this has prompted an increasing consensus among Tory MPs that Truss cannot stay on as Prime Minister, despite her having been in post for only 41 days. As many as 100 letters expressing no-confidence in the PM are thought to be awaiting Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee.

Is it possible for her to shore up her position in the short term? Penny Mordaunt, Rishi Sunak and Ben Wallace are just some of the names touted as replacements, but MPs, who will be desperate to avoid a protracted leadership contest, will want to unite behind just one and have not yet done so.

Truss will hold meetings with colleagues, including the moderate One Nation Conservatives, tonight at 6pm. She will argue that her removal will create political instability and further spook the markets. 

Given Labour is soaring in the polls – one survey from Opinium suggested that Keir Starmer’s party could win 422 seats if a general election is called now – many MPs may be open to keeping the Prime Minister in power, in return for a ministerial reshuffle that breaks up a cabinet made up almost entirely of Truss allies.

Victoria Atkins, the former minister for prisons and probation, perhaps best summed up the PM’s prospects this morning. When asked if Truss should lead the party into the next election, she simply replied: “She is prime minister at the moment.”

[See also: Liz Truss to resign as Prime Minister after just 44 days]

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