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14 October 2022updated 17 Oct 2022 10:59am

Liz Truss already faces “a pile” of letters of no confidence

The 1922 Committee is ready to suspend the rule that prevents a vote to oust the Conservative leader within a year of taking office.

By Harry Lambert

How long does it take you to abandon your most strongly held views? It takes Liz Truss three weeks. Today Westminster awaits confirmation that No 10 will, in a bid to reassure buyers of British debt, abandon one of the two structural pillars of Kwasi Kwarteng’s three-week-old fiscal plan and allow corporation tax to rise as Rishi Sunak had planned. In doing so, Liz Truss will sound the death knell for both her supposed political principles and for her government.

The FT, Guardian and Independent splash on the news, while the Mail notably offers no support: the PM, it says, has “17 days to save her job”. Today’s Telegraph, meanwhile, carries an interview with Kwarteng (“I’m not going anywhere”) that should serve as a souvenir if Truss soon sacks her Chancellor, as many expect.

But when might Truss herself be deposed? I am told that “a pile” of letters of no confidence – if not yet a tower – has already been submitted to Tory MPs on the executive of the 1922 Committee. Letters have been going in over the past week, and the executive is ready to suspend the rule that currently prevents a vote against Truss within a year of taking office. Its members can only do so once they feel that there is a “groundswell of support” for deposing Truss, but sources on the 1922 expect that point to be reached by Christmas.

[See also: Rebellious Tory MPs look for Liz Truss’s successor]

Crucially, the 1922 executive will not wait for more than half of the Conservatives in the Commons to express their dissatisfaction. A precedent has been set by the confidence vote against Johnson. It took 54 MPs to trigger the ballot in June, but 148 MPs then voted against him. That ratio is on the minds of the executive of the 1922. While the official threshold remains letters from 15 per cent of the parliamentary party, the numbers from June imply that were around 65 MPs to lobby for a no-confidence vote today, it would indicate that 179 – a majority of the party’s 356 MPs – wish to remove her. In practice, then, the threshold for triggering a vote against Truss is scarcely any higher than it was for Johnson, despite the one-year rule. And seven in ten MPs never wanted Truss as leader in the first place.

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It is no surprise that Tory MPs are already moving against Truss. This week, the government’s approval rating fell to 13 per cent, a low exceeded only by Theresa May’s premiership in May 2019, after which May was forced out within weeks. All of one in four Tory voters, and just one in five Leave voters, now backs Truss. She has no constituency. She is no longer politically relevant.

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As I touched on a fortnight ago, the Tory party’s credibility is also now shot. The party’s record for economic competence has collapsed, as it did for the Tories under Major in 1992 after Black Wednesday and in 2008 for Labour under Gordon Brown during the financial crash. Both parties went on to lose the elections that followed (in 1997 and 2010), each shut out of power for more than a decade. Does the same fate await the Tories today?

The big difference now is that Truss may soon be removed, as Major and Brown were not, and the Tories can still wait until January 2025 to call another election. As hard as it is to imagine today, their credibility could yet recover. Could Johnson himself return? “There are too many people in the party who wouldn’t brook it,” one MP tells me. “He’s not the solution. It’s just that Liz Truss wasn’t the answer.”

Who then might replace Truss? The Times has splashed on rumours of a possible deal between Sunak and Penny Mordaunt. After speaking to those proposing the pact, I would not put great stock in it. While a recovery is possible, the party has no evident alternative to annihilation under Truss. In any case, more instability lies ahead, as it has ever since Brexit. Between 1997 and 2016, five people served as prime minister or chancellor (Blair, Brown, Darling, Cameron, Osborne). In the six years since, Britain has run through three prime ministers and five chancellors. Has Britain become ungovernable – or has the Conservative Party become incapable of governing it?

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe here.

[See also: How long can Liz Truss survive?]

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