Tory meltdown poses big questions for opposition parties, particularly the SNP – Christine Jardine MP

That old cliché about a week being a long time in politics has never seemed more true than in the seven days between Kwasi Kwarteng unveiling his so-called “Plan for Growth” and the Conservative party gathering in Birmingham for their annual conference.
Liz Truss is due to address the Conservative party conference on Wednesday (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)Liz Truss is due to address the Conservative party conference on Wednesday (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Liz Truss is due to address the Conservative party conference on Wednesday (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

And not just for the current party of government, or politicians for that matter. It feels this week as if somehow a lever has been pulled and the entire economic and political atmosphere in the country has changed.

Criticism approaching opprobrium has been poured on the new Prime Minister and her Chancellor for an economic approach that sent shockwaves through society as the pound plunged and the Bank of England had to step in to save pension funds.

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Liz Truss got savage reviews for her interview tour of regional radio stations, seen as an attempt to shore up her embattled position.

At times it seemed to have more than the spin doctors would have liked in common with the recently launched Make Me A Prime Minister TV show. An Apprentice-style programme seeking to find someone from everyday life who think they would be a great PM, it comes complete with floundering interviews, press stunts and dreadful policy.

It’s reality TV with perfect timing in the real world where even senior current Conservative MPs are taking a step back from their own leadership and sending out public messages that seem to say: “This is nothing to do with us."

Rishi Sunak is among those reportedly staying away from conference saying they want to give the new team “space” for their moment.

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And at the end of what must be the shortest political honeymoon in British history, the public’s opinion is loud and clear.

The opinion polls certainly don’t make happy reading for the government either.

Labour support has increased massively and their lead over the government has doubled since the start of Liz Truss’s leadership. One poll last week put Labour on 50-plus per cent. Of course, it is worth considering the Labour conference may have played a role in that trend, particularly by giving them a timeous platform to respond to a budget wreaking immediate havoc in the money markets.

But even discounting that factor, all polls point to Tory support decreasing dramatically since the budget was announced. On September 23, when the plan was outlined, Labour’s lead was already 17 percentage points but by the end of the month it had leapt to an astonishing 33 per cent.

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There will, of course, be those who say it is only temporary. Once the markets calm down so will the opinion polls.

The few supporters the PM’s policies seem to have will no doubt claim that “once they begin to work, we will all see things differently”.

For me, that is a particularly optimistic prism for the Conservative party to view this through. They were always expecting a bounce – just not perhaps for the Labour party or as high as it appears to be going.

They will hope their own conference can undo some of the damage. Even for those used to these events, they can be exhausting at the best of times but they can also be an invigorating boost of spirit and a call to arms that leaves you ready to take on whatever the world has to throw at you.

It was undoubtedly that way for Labour last week but for the Conservatives, with those absences and a critical media spotlight, it could be a very different experience.

Their agenda certainly makes for some interesting reading, not least the foreword from the Prime Minister which claims that they have “delivered for the British people time after time” and that they are proud to be who they are.

I struggle to imagine that will reflect either the feeling emanating from the streets of Birmingham by Wednesday or the mood of the Conservative party itself reflected in recent statements.

The Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, on a visit to Darlington, said it was “premature” to confirm if benefits would rise to match inflation, a refusal which Philippa Stroud, a Tory peer who helped create and launch Universal Credit, described as “unnerving”.

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That last description is one which could be so easily attached to the widespread reaction, both in those opinion polls and in the country generally.

But even though they are reaping a vicious political wind as a result of policies both inept and immoral, the Tories are not the only politicians for whom the events of the past week pose enormous questions.

Labour, the SNP and my own Liberal Democrat party all face challenges as we try to find a way to get the country back on an even keel.

In the long run, the Labour party will need to offer more if they are to capitalise on this apparent boost to their prospects.

My own party too must look to where we can help to reassure the public that we will work to shore up public welfare against the damage we have all sustained.

But for the SNP there is perhaps the biggest challenge of all opposition parties.

The Conservatives may have created this latest crisis but what the public in Scotland will want is a solution. Not another problem.

That poses questions for the SNP over whether their obsession with independence over all else will still cut mustard with an electorate more engaged with the economic crisis.

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Every one of us has had an experience to shake our financial confidence and motivate us to look to a firm and secure future.

Surely, come the next election, the question for many more people than it might have been last week will be: “Who do I vote for to ensure a change of government?”

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West



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