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Liz Truss is finished. And so are the Tories

Amid economic catastrophe, the British prime minister has no choice but to step aside - and the Conservative Party may never recover
British Prime Minister Liz Truss delivers her keynote address on the final day of the annual Conservative Party conference in Birmingham on 5 October 2022 (AFP)

Empty. Devoid of content. Leaden. British Prime Minister Liz Truss has become a national joke. 

Her pitiful speech on Wednesday at the end of a dire Conservative Party conference leads to one inexorable conclusion: she’s finished. And two unanswered questions: when does she quit? And how?

I talked at length in Birmingham this week to ordinary Tory party members, the people who voted for her in the summer leadership contest. After just four weeks as prime minister, even they are well aware she’s a dud. 

They don't feel safe with the kind of people currently running Britain. I don't blame them. In fact, I agree with them

They know this because they are already facing the real-world consequences of her calamitous premiership. Some are businesspeople whose order books are falling because of Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s budget. 

Others have children who can’t take out mortgages. While Truss was speaking, it emerged that the interest rate on an average two-year fixed mortgage has topped six percent for the first time in 14 years.

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Many Tory members are retired, and understandably terrified for their future because Kwarteng’s unforgivable financial buffoonery threatens pension funds with collapse. 

As Tories, they desperately want to believe in the government. But as citizens, they are now frightened because - like everyone else - they have to suffer the terrifying economic consequences of the most incompetent government of their lifetime. They don’t feel safe with the kind of people currently running Britain. I don’t blame them. In fact, I agree with them.

Looming defeat

I also talked with insiders: MPs, campaign strategists and political reporters. These experts all agreed that Truss is useless, cannot recover and would lead the Tory party to a massive defeat at the next general election (which must be held by January 2025 at the latest). 

They noted (in the case of journalists, with professional relish) the collapse of cabinet discipline, and the yawning split opening up at the heart of the Tory party over every great issue. 

They spoke of how ugly personal vendettas (Truss’s relationships with her former cabinet colleagues Michael Gove, Rishi Sunak and Priti Patel are all in the deep freeze) have made an already shambolic government worse.

Activists hold a banner criticising Truss’s premiership at the Tory party conference in Birmingham on 5 October 2022 (AFP)
Activists hold a banner criticising Truss’s premiership during the prime minister's speech in Birmingham on 5 October 2022 (AFP)

They spoke of Truss’s vindictiveness and insecurity, noting how nervous she is of able and experienced people who are capable of giving sensible advice.

All now assume that Labour leader Keir Starmer will become prime minister, though there is disagreement about the scale of his majority. Some speculate that the Conservatives could be wiped out - the Tories would win just three seats if the YouGov poll showing Labour’s 33-point lead were duplicated in a general election - while others feel the Tories may recover a bit.

All said that no recovery is possible without a new leader. Everyone accepts, however, that there can be no repeat of the leadership election that occupied the Tory party over the summer after Boris Johnson’s defenestration. Such a contest, besides being a distraction from the business of government, would turn the Conservative Party into more of a laughingstock than it is already.

Labour rising

So there is talk of a senior party delegation warning Truss that her time is up. If she refuses to go, mass cabinet resignations would follow. Her replacement would then be chosen by consensus. This would break party rules, but water always finds a way to flow downhill.

Sunak, the former chancellor whose warning of the economic consequences of a Truss premiership has been proved spectacularly correct, is the likely successor in such circumstances. There is some talk of a stopgap government led by Gove or Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

Liz Truss: The triumph of style over substance
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Johnson will certainly fancy his chances of a return. Don’t rule that possibility out: the majority of the party membership would want him back.

For the time being, Truss staggers on, though in my view not for long. Her government can’t function, and Britain faces a national economic emergency that she lacks the vision or the credibility to handle. 

When she goes, Labour will rightly demand a general election, for which there will be considerable support in the country. The Tory party will resist these pleas on the selfish grounds that it would hang onto, at best, a handful of seats - perhaps none.  

The Conservative Party has been smashed. Arguably, it will never recover. It doesn’t deserve to. Labour is now on the verge of power, and is likely to emerge from this period of national humiliation and economic disaster as the natural party of government under the leadership of Starmer.

There is every reason to dislike Sir Keir’s brand of politics, and to fear a Starmer premiership. But he can’t possibly be worse than the horror show on display in Birmingham this week.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Peter Oborne won best commentary/blogging in both 2022 and 2017, and was also named freelancer of the year in 2016 at the Drum Online Media Awards for articles he wrote for Middle East Eye. He was also named as British Press Awards Columnist of the Year in 2013. He resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015. His latest book is The Fate of Abraham: Why the West is Wrong about Islam, published in May by Simon & Schuster. His previous books include The Triumph of the Political Class, The Rise of Political Lying, Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran and The Assault on Truth: Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and the Emergence of a New Moral Barbarism.
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