Can Liz Truss survive as British Prime Minister?

Liz Truss’s premiership remains in jeopardy, despite the fact that she has ousted Kwasi Kwarteng as chancellor and made a major reversal of the “mini” budget that defined her economic strategy.

After a stilted press conference at Downing Street on Friday, Conservative MPs are far from convinced she has done enough to strengthen her position.

Some MPs plan to oust Truss and if they succeed it would mean the UK has its fifth Conservative Prime Minister in six years and its second without a direct mandate from the electorate.

Can Liz Truss continue as PM?

Truss sparked turmoil in financial markets and sparked a rebellion by Conservative MPs after Kwarteng revealed a right-wing agenda in his mini-budget on Sept. 23 that included $45 billion.

Executing her about-face and scrapping her plan not to go ahead with proposed corporate tax hikes, Truss hoped the change in her economic strategy would please lawmakers and calm markets. But the early verdict from investors and lawmakers appeared to be a thumbs-down.

And while some Conservatives welcomed the appointment of Jeremy Hunt, a moderate Tory, as chancellor, they warned he could not bail them out.

“Jeremy is a reasonable choice but he has no business experience,” said a former cabinet minister. “I’m not sure he’s even well equipped to deal with this crisis.”

Other Tories have said Truss’ attempt to blame Kwarteng for the mini-budget fiasco risks backfire. “The whole strategy was Truss’ plan. . . You can’t just distance yourself from that,” said a party expert.

How big is the PM’s backlash from her party?

More Tory MPs want to oust Truss, even though she has only been prime minister for 38 days.

Some MPs, noting the Conservative slump in opinion polls since the mini-budget, believe the British have made up their minds and rejected Truss. “She’ll never get better, it’s a question of when she goes, not if she goes,” said one MP. Another said it was “for birds to see through this”.

A Tory donor who supported Truss said it was “increasingly likely” that she would face an attempt by MPs to oust her before Christmas. “It’s about what we’re less embarrassed about now: the pain of getting rid of her or the pain of keeping her,” he added. “The U-turn changed that calculation towards the former.”

However, there are many Conservatives who believe Truss’ immediate ouster would push the Tories towards a general election which polls say would lose by a wide margin to Labour.

A Conservative MP said: “The removal of Liz means snap elections and we will be completely crushed. That is their strongest argument for staying.”

Nadine Dorries, the former culture secretary who backed Truss when she ran against ex-Chancellor Rishi Sunak for Tory leadership this summer, tweeted: “Who absurdly referred to as Grande MPs (men) agitating for Liz Truss’ ouster, are all Sunak followers. . . It is a conspiracy not to remove a prime minister but to overthrow democracy.”

How could Truss be ousted?

Some Tory MPs have sent letters of no confidence to Truss at Sir Graham Brady, the 1922 chairman of the Backbench Conservatives’ committee, which plays a key role in organizing party leadership competitions.

Truss is currently protected by the committee’s rules, which say she cannot face a leadership challenge through a vote of no confidence until September 2023: a year after she was elected to succeed Boris Johnson.

But the committee serves as a channel for Tory backbenchers’ opinion, and if enough MPs tell Sir Graham they want Truss to go, it’s his job to make sure that happens.

A senior Conservative suggested Brady would be forced to act if “over a hundred” MPs failed to submit letters of confidence. Other Tories say the catalyst for him would have to be at least 179 MPs, half of the parliamentary group.

In the circumstances, Brady would visit Truss and tell her that Conservative MPs wanted her to go and she could either resign or be forced out of office by a vote of no confidence following a 1922 change in the committee’s rules.

Could there be a full Tory leadership contest?

The Conservative Constitution states that the rules for a leadership contest are set by the party executive in consultation with the chairman of the 1922 committee. It also states that the races will take place in two phases: MPs select two candidates and party membership decides the winner.

If Truss is removed, lawmakers don’t want a protracted leadership contest lasting several months, as happened when Johnson quit this summer following the Partygate scandal. “It’s definitely not up to the members,” said one MP. “The country cannot afford that and we need stability now.”

To avoid Tory members getting a leadership contest, MPs would need to ensure the group agreed on a single candidate.

Such a move would require the tacit approval of all MPs and would likely trigger a backlash from party members. “Any leader elected without a membership mandate would be even weaker than Liz,” said one MP.

Who could replace Truss as Tory leader?

By taking on the role of chancellor, Hunt has put himself in a strong position to succeed her, despite his two previous failed attempts at becoming a conservative leader.

But should Truss be ousted, there will likely be several MPs who want to become party leaders and prime ministers.

For example, Home Secretary Suella Braverman was at the last leadership contest and has told colleagues that she would like to run again in the future.

Other potential contenders include Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch, both of whom have already stood for leadership. Sunak could run again, possibly in a pact with the leader of the House of Commons, Penny Mordaunt.

Some MPs believe former Ascension Secretary Michael Gove could make a final push for the Tory leadership. Can Liz Truss survive as British Prime Minister?

Adam Bradshaw

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