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Tory Rebels Planning Crisis Talks On Truss's Leadership Amid Fears Of 1997-Style Wipeout

Tory Rebels Planning Crisis Talks On Truss's Leadership Amid Fears Of 1997-Style Wipeout

Kwasi Kwarteng and Liz Truss visit a construction site for a medical innovation campus in Birmingham during party conference.

4 min read

Conservative MPs are preparing to hold meetings to discuss Liz Truss' future amid growing backbench restlessness with the first few weeks of her premiership and dire opinion polling.

Around a dozen Tory MPs are planning crisis talks to discuss the future of under pressure-prime minister's leadership when they get back to Westminster after party conference season, PoliticsHome understands.

Truss, who is in Birmingham for the Conservative conference, is battling to contain an already mutinous parliamentary party despite her government being just a few weeks old.

On Monday the prime minister was forced to scrap her plan to abolish the 45p tax rate after numerous Conservatives MPs threatened to vote it down in the House of Commons, and now she and Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng face growing pressure to raise benefits in line with inflation. 

House of Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt appeared to breach Cabinet collective responsibility this morning when she said that the welfare system should be "keeping pace with inflation".

A series of opinion polls giving Keir Starmer's Labour large, double-figure leads over the Conservatives have also contributed to dismay among Tory MPs. Polls published on Monday by Redfield & Wilton and Savanta ComRes give Labour leads of 28% and 25% respectively.

One senior Tory MP told PoliticsHome that the party may be forced to oust Truss to avoid a landslide defeat at the next election, which is expected to take place in 2024. 

“Faced with these apocalyptic polls and continued unforced errors by the government, my fellow Conservative MPs and I have to make our minds up about the future of our party," they said. 

“It’s becoming clear that we are facing a choice between being electorally killed in a disaster worse than 1997 under Liz Truss, or changing course and salvaging our party for the good of the country.

“I know my fellow MPs well enough to say that the PM is on borrowed time. This can’t go on, and we’re going to have to do something about it. It’s now a case of when, not if." 

The prime minister's most fierce critics say that the market reaction to Kwarteng's next fiscal statement, as well as the accompanying Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts, will be key to their next steps. The chancellor is expected to deliver the statement later this month, with the Financial Times reporting last night that he had agreed to bring it forward. 

Tensions within the Tory party have spilled out into the open in Birmingham with numerous MPs, including former Cabinet minister Michael Gove, criticising the government's policy direction.

A party insider said the problem for Truss is it “doesn’t feel like it’s her majority” because most Conservative MPs voted for Rishi Sunak to be the next party leader and prime minister, with Truss only taking the lead once the vote was put to the party's wider membership.

“Nobody ever has a direct mandate for everything they do in government, but in this case it does feel like it’s [Boris] Johnson’s party, so maybe she should stick to the 2019 manifesto or call an election,” they said.

PoliticsHome also understands that some Conservatives MPs who backed Truss in the contest to replace Johnson this summer have expressed regret over their decision.

A number of Conservative MPs have played down the threat to her position, however, and urged the party to stick together.

An MP elected in 2019 said that the "self sabotage" of undermining Truss' leadership would do more damage to the party than sticking with her. “It’s not long until the next election and if they get growth up and inflation down then we will be in with a shot," they said.

Another, who is a Truss supporter, told PoliticsHome that the party needed to “get its act together, ignore all the media criticism and push through”.

“The atmosphere at conference is actually broadly positive," they said.

"There are plenty of MPs around, and it’s just about knuckling under and pushing through with the plans, not getting derailed by anything else.”

Home Secretary Suella Braverman this afternoon took a swipe at critical Conservative MPs like Gove who threatened to vote against the government's 45p tax rate policy. 

“I am disappointed that members of our party staged a coup and undermined the PM in an unprofessional way," Braverman said at a fringe event at Conservative party conference, adding that Tory MPs should raise their concerns "in private".

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