Now Jeremy Hunt is in charge

The Conservatives now have two choices, neither of which is good. They can continue to plot against Liz Truss until they find a way to lure her out of office, or they can try to pretend that she’s not really there anymore and that her new chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, is really in charge.

Both options are not attractive for either the party or the country, but the second option has the appeal for some of their MPs that they are not yet asking anything of them. Truss is more than a lame duck handler. With Hunt’s latest testimony, he almost wiped out their entire growth strategy and political platform. Your budget cost voters money, and everyone knows it. It has no credibility with voters, peers or markets, and lacks the communication skills to even speak to the country.

The Tories won’t allow her to lead her into the next election so the only question for them is when and how to remove her. The conspiracy was cruel, but so far without clarity. There is no consensus on her replacement, how to remove and replace her without giving party members another say. Everything can be solved, but nothing so far. Tory MPs can and will defy calls for an immediate election once it’s ousted – nobody goes into the country when they’re at 19 percent in the polls. But the moral argument for one will be very loud and powerful and could further weaken them when they finally go to the polls.

Some might therefore conclude that it is better to pretend that Hunt is really Prime Minister and see how far that gets them. Her appearances will be kept to a minimum, although Prime Minister’s Questions will be a weekly blood sport.

The now unfireable Hunt will take on all financial and spending decisions, as well as the task of persuading his colleagues to support uncomfortable cuts or tax increases. According to an ally, he is the chair of the board of directors of her chair.

Truss could try to confine himself to foreign policy issues until the ship is right again. This gives the markets a sense of stability, the Tories time to figure out who they want instead, and their 1922 backbench committee time to reconsider the rules for choosing a leader. If Hunt did well, he could also be offered to voters as the man who saved the day. Few believe he denies his continued ambition. With all the alternatives unpalatable to one faction or another of the party, why not give Hunt some time? Few believe the next election can be won, but the scale of losses could be reduced.

However, this does not change the basic facts. Truss has shattered the Tory’s reputation for economic excellence and the pain will be felt across the country. Her disastrous Friday press conference following the sacking of her chancellor convinced MPs she simply wasn’t up to the challenge.

Moreover, by limiting the energy bailout package to six months, Hunt has adopted a different Labor policy that Truss scoffed at just five days ago. Not only are the Tories losing their own reputation, they are polishing Labour’s too.

His panicky reaction is also a testament to the extent to which the government has eroded the UK’s international image, infuriating the nation with the ire of bond markets and the contempt of the IMF, and imposing a risk premium on UK borrowing.

Hunt has at least acted to stabilize the ship, but significant challenges remain. There’s still a big budget hole that needs to be filled, and while the energy price problem could ease up, it’s not likely to be gone by April. Conservatives are now in damage control mode, both for the country and for themselves, but cleaning up the devastation wrought by Truss’s economic illiteracy will only add to their unpopularity.

At the moment it is about restoring economic stability and credibility. If that means acting like Truss isn’t in charge anymore, then that might be the more painless route for a while. But it’s not sustainable. Premiers still have too many powers for MPs to pretend she’s not there and she’s shown terrible judgement. Your colleagues fear every public appearance. How long can this go on?

It may be that things have gone too far and enough Tory MPs have decided it is better to take the trouble now and spend two years trying to rebuild and at least repair the election damage limit. Allies of Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt, and Ben Wallace are actively promoting.

The choice is yours: play with Hunt for a while or strike now. But even if they hold back for the time being, their position as prime minister is over. She has lost all authority. Execution can be stayed, but the verdict and sentence stand. Now Jeremy Hunt is in charge

Adam Bradshaw

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