It’s time to welcome our new overlord, Jeremy Hunt - Euan McColm
Sure, technically he’s the Chancellor of the Exchequer but make no mistake, Hunt is now in the driving seat. Truss, who retains the title of Prime Minister (at time of writing) is a spent force, made powerless by her own ineptitude.
It is, I suppose, decent of Hunt to let her stay on for ceremonial duties and blame-taking.
Truss clearly thinks the appointment of Hunt will save her political skin. After creating the vacancy of Chancellor by sacking Kwasi Kwarteng for doing what she wanted and announcing a “mini budget” full of uncosted cuts that sent the economy into crisis, Truss needed to show that she was willing to change tack and, well, Hunt has the advantage over Kwarteng of not appearing to be fully weird.
This truly is a new dawn, is it not?
But Hunt’s relative normality is not the life-raft Truss hopes. Rather, his appointment compounds her misery.
Where is Truss’s authority, now? What room does she have to exercise political muscle?
Hunt, who, let’s not forget, was once a proponent of even bigger cuts to corporation tax than the ones Truss is no longer going to make, is untouchable. How can the ceremonial Prime Minister instruct him to do anything?
If Hunt dislikes a suggestion, he may simply defy her. If he prefers a different direction, there is nothing to stop him taking the country on that new route. What is Truss going to do if she disagrees? Sack him? That would be the end of her.
It shouldn’t come to this, of course, for Truss’s premiership must be brought to an end as swiftly as possible, for the good of the country and her party.
The sacrifice of Kwarteng on Friday did nothing to reassure the markets that the Prime Minister was now back in control. Nor, as a poll of more than 2,600 voters by the organisation findoutnow revealed, did it restore any goodwill in the wider country. Sixty-four per cent of those questioned said it was time for Truss to resign while only 12 per cent reckoned she should stay (as ever, I’m baffled by the large number of people who, asked about an issue of such importance, are able to answer “don’t know”).
Truss attempted to repair some of the damage she had caused to the country and her party by holding a press conference on Friday afternoon. Unfortunately for the PM, this required her to speak publicly and answer questions, two of the rudimentary skills required of a political leader in which she is woefully deficient.
After a brief opening statement, she took - and failed to answer - just four questions. The Prime Minister, as is always the case, looked utterly bewildered.
The briefings from Tory colleagues which followed were brutal. With this public appearance, Truss had made things worse.
There is, I think it reasonable to point out, no way back for a Prime Minister who cannot open her mouth without damaging her party. Allowing Truss to remain in power begins to look like an act of bullying by her colleagues.
There’s been a lot of talk in recent days about the rules of the Conservative Party stating that there can be no challenge to a new leader within 12 months of them taking office. This isn’t the law, though, is it? It’s a line in a rule book that can easily be scored out. It’s becoming increasingly clear that many Tory MPs are ready to make that edit.
Sir Graham Brady, chair of the backbench 1922 committee, will return to the House of Commons tomorrow to find a sheaf of letters of no confidence in the Prime Minister from members of the Conservative Party’s parliamentary group. If it was not already clear to Brady that - so far as Tory MPs are concerned - the Truss experiment is over, it soon will be.
Understandably, opposition parties agree but also believe that the end of the Truss era - if such a short period time can be described as such - should be marked by a General Election. Of course, they do. For one thing, the argument that the Tory Party shouldn’t be permitted to keep imposing on us all Prime Ministers who aren’t up to the job is a compelling one, even if this is perfect permissible under our electoral system.
For another, current polls suggest Labour would storm to power and the Tories would be wiped out, possibly returning fewer MPs across the UK than the SNP has in Scotland.
This, I think, is why the conservatives will try to salvage something rather than going to the country if (or, more likely, when) they replace Truss.
Which brings me back to the PM-in-all-but-title, Jeremy Hunt. Yesterday morning, he appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme and managed to sound like he wasn’t entirely deranged. This marks him out among the current Conservative front-bench.
Hunt, who stood against Boris Johnson for the Tory leadership in 2019, is an ambitious man. I have no doubt he sees the chance of - finally - getting what he wants. And how could his colleagues stop him?
If Tory MPs - as I think they will - get rid of Truss sooner rather than later, Jeremy Hunt will surely argue he’s started fixing what has been broken and he should be allowed to get on with the job.
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