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18 October 2022

Tory members can’t say nobody warned them

The party wouldn’t vote for Liz Truss today, but they should have known this disaster was coming.

By Jonn Elledge

Just after 11pm last night I left a theatre and switched my phone back on to check who the Prime Minister was. A BBC news alert immediately arrived with a ping. “I’ll lead Tories into next election, says embattled Liz Truss.” So, we were clearly supposed to conclude: that was that.

Of course, it isn’t. “I’m not going anywhere” is one of the most self-negating statements a politician can make: if you have to say it, and if the fact you did counts as news, then it probably isn’t true. At the moment last week when it started to seem all but certain that Kwasi Kwarteng would have to resign as chancellor normally apolitical radio stations like 6 Music began leading news bulletins with his claim that he would still be in his job in a month’s time. And look how that turned out.

As much as Truss might try to argue that reports of her demise have been greatly exaggerated, it’s clear no one is buying it. Seemingly every newspaper is led by reports of unnamed Tories saying she’s got to go; even friendly papers like the Mail and Sun have turned. (Honourable, yet strangely unhelpful, exception: the Daily Express.) So little support does the Prime Minister have in government that the guy sent out to do this morning’s broadcast round was James Heappey, the armed forces minister, whose name it is entirely possible you just encountered for the first time. And when the Leader of the House of Commons announces that the Prime Minister isn’t actually hiding under her desk, it’s just possible that Prime Minister no longer has their full support.

All that would be hard to survive anyway, but this morning it emerged that Truss had also lost the only group of people who’d really backed her in the first place. Buried in the Telegraph’s splash about how impressive and grown up Jeremy Hunt now seems was a survey of Conservative Party members conducted by JL Partners. Having spoken to 500 Tory members, weighted by how they voted in the leadership election in the summer between Truss and Rishi Sunak, the pollsters concluded that if the election were held now 60 per cent would vote for Sunak and 40 per cent for Truss. In the real vote, which concluded only 43 days ago, Truss beat the former chancellor 57 to 43.

This turnaround sparks a number of thoughts. The most obvious is: oh, you don’t say! Truss immediately crashed the economy, sent interest and mortgage rates spiking and her party’s polling plummeting to the sort of all-time low that means people are genuinely starting to discuss whether the Conservative Party can even survive this crisis. And you’re saying that this has made her less popular with Tory members? Golly.

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Then, in direct contradiction of that one, comes: is that it? There are plausible electoral maps floating around in which the Tory party is wiped out in Suffolk, yet 40 per cent of Tory members still back her? (Actually, this poll is “of those members with a view”: it’s at least possible the real figures could be worse.)

The last and most damning thing to say about this poll, though, is this: they can’t say nobody warned them. Indeed, Sunak quite plainly warned party members that exactly this would happen himself if they chose Truss. Yet they went ahead and chose her anyway.

Truss probably won’t survive this crisis. And if Tory MPs have any survival instinct left whatsoever, the era of listening to their membership is surely done as well.

[See also: Will there be a snap election?]

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