Liz Truss takes on Commons in a retest of leadership

Liz Truss is poised for a critical test of her position as prime minister on Wednesday, when she faces the House of Commons for the first time since tearing up her economic strategy.

Truss will take part in the Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons after Jeremy Hunt, the new Chancellor who many MPs believe is now the country’s de facto leader, reversed most of the tax cuts in her disastrous “mini” budget .

Anger at Truss’s leadership abated on Tuesday, as government insiders said the mood at Downing Street was “calmer” and “much happier”. PM’s allies believe she can now survive at least until the end of the month.

Senior lawmakers said Truss should remain in place until Hunt presents his new budget on Oct. 31 to avoid further instability. “Imagine if we had a new prime minister who appointed a new chancellor before the end of the month,” said one MP.

A minister added: “Let’s see how the markets react if they crash again, then politically everything is in the stars again”.

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee, met with Hunt on Tuesday before the Chancellor addressed Tory MPs on Wednesday.

One MP close to the 1922 Executive said Brady met the Chancellor because “he’s new to office and never has been [to speak to MPs] for some time.” Brady has told colleagues he’s “always very happy” to discuss matters with colleagues.

Although only five MPs are calling for Truss to step down, few Conservatives and Ministers believe Truss can survive despite the PM’s insistence that she will stand in the next election.

Michael Gove, the former Level Up Secretary, said at a private event on Tuesday that it was “no longer a question of if Liz Truss goes, it’s a question of when she goes”. In leaked comments to The Guardian newspaper, he said: “The question for every leader is what happens when the program or platform on which you secured leadership has been shredded”.

A former cabinet minister said Truss “bought a stay of execution, but no more. The Prime Minister is like a piece of paper floating in the wind, she could be blown away at any moment.”

Truss met with members of the European Research Group of hardline Brexiters on Tuesday night to persuade right-wing MPs to back their leadership. One MP in attendance said “the Brexiters are behind her”.

To improve ties with the right-wing Tories, Truss also reinstated David Canzini, Boris Johnson’s Brexit-supporting former adviser who is close to the ERG, as an adviser.

The Prime Minister received a positive reception from the One Nation group of centrist Tory MPs, who are pleased that Hunt, a former member of the caucus, is effectively leading the government and keeping right-wing Tories in check. A moderator said: “The right has no credible candidate. The madmen don’t have a lead madman.”

However, Truss’ weak position was highlighted by several new polls on Tuesday. A YouGov poll of Conservative Party members found that 55 percent want the prime minister to resign. The pollster also reported that former Chancellor Rishi Sunak would beat her if a Tory leadership contest was held. In a separate poll, YouGov said the Prime Minister’s Net-Gunstness ratings have fallen to -70 points.

A distraught former minister said the party agreed Truss had to go but was bitterly divided over what should happen next.

“The old guard think Jeremy Hunt could be prime minister, but that’s a fantasy,” he said. “The rightists don’t like Rishi [Sunak] but they don’t have a candidate of their own — they screwed up their case for lower taxes and a small state for a generation,” he said.

“Penny Mordaunt goes around saying she can cheer things up like it’s a hockey game. But in the end, the election dynamics are so bad: my colleagues won’t put up with it.”

But a senior MP said the situation for the Conservative Party was “awful” whether Truss stayed or went. “Either we look ridiculous to be replaced [the] Leaders that fast or we’re headed for a landslide defeat,” he said. “Either way it’s checkmate.”

In a sign of mounting anger at the Conservatives’ economic mismanagement, the Liberal Democrats reported this week that five businessmen, including one who had previously donated to the Tories, have agreed to pay the party £50,000 a year to help to dismiss MPs.

“We have seen a marked shift in the past week, with a dramatic increase in donors knocking on the Liberal Democrats’ door,” said a party spokeswoman.

“They will not forgive the Conservatives for wrecking the economy and see us as the main party removing many of these MPs in their heartlands,” she added. The money will be spent on campaigns in some 30 target Lib Dem seats in Tory’s so-called ‘blue wall’ of wealthy southern constituencies.

Video: The Brexit Effect: How leaving the EU is affecting Great Britain Liz Truss takes on Commons in a retest of leadership

Adam Bradshaw

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