The differences on immigration, benefits, Brexit, NHS, legitimate rights, essentially the policy mix, will continue to unbalance the party whoever Truss’ successor is.
London: Having claimed to be a fighter and not a quitter, Prime Minister Liz Truss made her final U-turn and resigned. She will remain as Prime Minister until her successor is chosen. A leadership election will be completed this week, nominations will close at 2 pm on Monday. Nominations require a Parliamentary Party proposer and a seconder plus a hundred names of MPs in receipt of a Conservative whip; the proposer and seconder will be made public, but the supporters will be kept private by request. If only one candidate secures 100 backers that candidate will automatically become PM. Any candidate with less than a hundred names will be eliminated; hustings will be held before the remaining candidates will be put to MPs for an “indicative vote” to show Conservative Party members, who the Parliamentary Party wants as PM, then the final vote goes to Conservative Party members, who will choose online from the final two, with results expected on Friday evening.
Liz Truss finally realised she was not capable of delivering her low-tax/high-growth vision. Her signature mini-budget bombed, party unity worsened with defections likely, the stoking to make Labour’s fracking ban in the Commons into a confidence vote on the PM was unprecedented—despite a three-line whip, 32 Tories did not take part in the vote. The outcome was no Tories voted to ban fracking. During the summer hustings, former Chancellor Rishi Sunak described Truss’ monetary and fiscal plans as a fairy tale, Sunak’s prediction was soon vindicated. MPs who supported Sunak actively turned against the PM, which made the Tory party ungovernable. And then Suella Braverman turned turtle on the PM by undoing all the good work on the UK-India FTA, with her immigration comments and then icing the cake with her pointedly critical resignation letter, which drew everyone’s attention to the fissures and factions in Conservative ideology. These differences, on immigration, benefits, Brexit, NHS, legitimate rights, essentially the policy mix, will continue to unbalance the party whoever Truss’ successor is.
Let’s get to the likely candidates: Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt.
Former PM Boris Johnson backed Liz Truss most likely because he knew it gave him an opening to his parting promise of “Hasta la vista, Baby”. Boris backers for Truss have reverted to Johnson as have some members of the European Research Group. Johnson has a hard core of loyalists within MPs, members, donors and the public; he still has the people’s mandate from when he was elected with a stupendous majority in 2019 and his manifesto is still current. It would be wrong to underestimate the pulling power of Boris Johnson; policy wise he is very focused on levelling up and climate change. If Johnson can overcome the allegations of misleading Parliament and convince the media that only he has the charisma and commitment to stabilise, unify and to win the general election in 2024, his political comeback could be only six weeks after moving out of No10.
Rishi Sunak, the Tory MPs’ first choice last time, the bookies’ favourite this time and predictor of the market’s reaction to Truss’ vision. Will these factors and Sunak’s fiscal conservatism have influenced the members enough? Many are still fuming with Sunak for deserting Johnson or persecuting Sunak for his personal wealth, which they believe makes him unable to identify with more ordinary folk. In March 2021, The Sunday Guardian published that Sunak was in pole position for the next general election. In a survey on 18 October YouGov research found that Conservative members regretted electing Truss and would vote for Sunak given the chance again, their chance to put their money where their mouth is has come.
Penny Mordaunt, presently Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons, made a very positive impression when she led the Ascension Council ceremony for King Charles III. The Sunday Guardian published a short profile in November 2017. Since then Mordaunt has been Minister for Women and Equalities, Secretary of State for Defence, Paymaster General, Minister of State for International Trade and participated in numerous committees. Her credentials for PM are well rounded and in spite of speculation of alliances with other candidates, she has stood her ground. Mordaunt has constantly featured in lists of leadership contenders and does not want to be subordinate to anyone. In her last campaign, Mordaunt claimed she was the candidate Labour feared the most, a winning message with Tory grassroots.
Who will each candidate choose as their Chancellor is the million-dollar question. At the time of writing Sunak leads with 64 names, Johnson with 59 names (including 17 names who have exercised their right to remain anonymous) and Mordaunt with 20 names, that is only 143 MPs out of 357; polling is erratic and contradictory, Monday is a long way away.