After only a month in the job, British Prime Minister Liz Truss will have to give the speech of her life on Wednesday if she wants to regain her prime ministership.
His government was forced to do a U-turn on Monday over a proposal to cut the UK’s top rate of income tax, which it sees as unfairly helping the rich while Britons live with the worst cost of living. crisis in decades.
It was clear on Sunday night, even as Truss spoke at a private reception at his Conservative Party’s annual conference in Birmingham, that the tax cuts did not have enough support from his fellow MPs. This meant that his finance minister’s small budget, which also included measures to help people pay their energy bills, was highly unlikely to survive a vote in the House of Commons.
Dissent rarely emerges immediately after a new leader takes over a political party. But at a private Sunday night event hosted by the prominent website ConservativeHome, CNN saw a number of prominent Conservatives – including cabinet ministers – gossiping and rolling their eyes as Truss addressed a packed room, defending the tax cut that was just hours away. axed
On Tuesday, Truss’ enemies turned their attention to forcing Boris Johnson to follow through on a pledge made under the last prime minister to match welfare payments to inflation. At the time of writing, the government insists it will not budge a second time, although a Truss minister has backed doing so in a radio interview.
Several Conservative MPs told CNN on Monday night and Tuesday morning that if he does not use Wednesday’s speech to stamp the party’s authority, they fear dissent will worsen and open disloyalty could undermine the entire government.
Allies and foes have different views on the merits of the tax cuts, but they all agree on one thing: the messaging about policy and change has been poor.
“I wouldn’t do it in the first place, but after insisting during our conference that we will continue to cancel a flagship policy, and then blaming it on everyone else, it seems completely credible to us,” said one conservative, known as the “Red Wall”. A term that refers to seats in the north of England, which traditionally vote Labor but went in favor of Boris Johnson in the last election.
Truss tried to distance himself from politics, telling the BBC on Sunday morning that it had come from Finance Minister Kwasi Kwarteng, saying he was being fired. “under a bus”.
Kwarteng had to address the party faithful from Monday’s conference stage. He gave a brief speech in defense in which he called the tax cut a “distraction”, a term that became the party’s official line after the policy was dropped, given the number of ministers using it.
Kwarteng and his party were eager to let the British know that we “get it” and “go ahead”. It may be a little harder for Truss to wash his hands of this PR nightmare.
At the time of publication, CNN understands that its advisers are planning a briefing on Wednesday to include a brief and detailed explanation of what happened and why, although it is likely to stop short of an apology.
They are eager to make clear that the UK is committed to capping household and business energy bills, which will cost the government billions of pounds.
“Haven’t we already committed enough to energy?” A senior adviser to Truss told CNN.
That may not be enough. Many in Birmingham were upset at how defensive Kwarteng’s speech was and how little he revealed.
Adding to the sense of chaos in the party, Home Secretary Suella Braverman told the Telegraph’s Chopper’s Politics podcast that those who forced Truss to drop the tax cut plan had “struck a blow and damaged the Prime Minister in an unprofessional way”.
Grant Shapps, Johnson’s former transport secretary, told the News Agents podcast that Truss had 10 days to turn his leadership around, according to a partial transcript of the interview. he tweeted before publishing
A senior Tory said Truss would have to “show something that gives us hope that we can win the next election”.
It has not yet been decided whether he plans to pull any rabbits out of hats on Wednesday. Many of his fellow MPs would like to see some big policies on investment in poor areas or national infrastructure, the kinds of policies Johnson used to reveal at similar forums, according to his advisers.
However, Truss’s position as leader was as a tax-cutting, small-state Conservative. A senior adviser to the Prime Minister told CNN on Tuesday morning that big-ticket policies would not be his style and that unless he was honestly “game changing” he would be “desperate” and “cynical”.
In addition, Conservatives across the party say that even if Truss wants to make a big spending commitment, it would be incompatible with the economic picture he and his ministers have painted.
That leaves Truss between a rock and a hard place on Wednesday afternoon in Birmingham. The leader’s speech at the party conference is a focal point in the political calendar. It’s an opportunity for the government to brag about its record and rally the troops for the next 12 months.
Instead, the Prime Minister will spend Wednesday trying to pick up a party that she and her government have stumbled and fallen to the ground. He must offer his allies enough ideological purity to renew their support, while at the same time giving those who reject his mandate enough of a deal to break Johnson’s agenda to keep quiet.
He has to do this because the morale in his party is in a poor state. MPs with large majorities are talking privately as if they have already lost their seats, talking to people at drinks events around the conference about their next career moves. Truss must restore discipline in his cabinet and the whole party.
Many people, from party members to European diplomats, agreed that this looks like a party on the way out of government. That doesn’t mean it’s inevitable, and Truss could turn things around before January 2025, the deadline for calling the next general election. But unless conservatives snap out of their stupor and torpor, that burning sense of fear can be all-consuming. And often in politics, the most dangerous thing is not the emergence of a set of policies or an opposition, but the inevitable feeling that the end is near.