Thursday, 20th October, 2022

[Day 948]

Harold Wilson, the Labour Prime Minister in the 1960’s, coined the memorable phrase that ‘a week is a long time in politics’ This in undoubtedly true but probably needs updating to ‘a day is a long time in politics’ After the debacle of the resignation of the Home Secretary yesterday which was followed by disgraceful scenes in the House of Commons where it was reported that Conservative MP’s were manhandled and bullied ino a vote in favour of fracking, today we had the resignation of the Prime Minister, Liz Truss. It looked as though last night’s shenanigans was absolutely the last straw for many Conservative MPs and no doubt several more letters found their way into the postbox of Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 backbenchers committee who had a meeting with Liz Truss half way through the morning. Then came an announcement in the late morning that there would be an announcement at 1.30. The lectern was duly wheeled out and just after 1.30 Liz Truss emerged from within No. 10 to announce that she had not need able to fulfil the mandate upon which she had been elected and hence she had tendered her resignation to the King. This made Liz Truss the shortest serving Prime Minister in UK history. She has clocked up 44 full days in the role – a long way behind the next shortest premiership, that of Tory statesman George Canning, who spent 118 full days as PM in 1827 before dying in office from ill health. Even the 44 days appears flattering as a whole chunk of normal ‘political’ days were removed as political activity was suspended during the duration of the Queen’s funeral. The idea of a ‘mandate’ is interesting in this context because Liz Truss argued that she could not fulfil the mandate given to her in her election as Conservative party leader. On the other hand, several politicians, not least the recently resigned Suella Braverman, the ex Home Secretary, have referred to the mandate given to them by the election victory of 2019. So which should have priority in cases where they conflict?

Liz Truss did indicate in her resignation statement that the intention was to elect a new leader by a week on Friday i.e. withn 8 days. The very short-lived hope is that a ‘unity’ candidate may emerge that can be elected leader by acclamation. But the modern Conservative party is both so fractured and fractious demonstrated by the fact that eight candidates have so far thrown their hats into the ring and it is rumoured that Boris Johnson is flying back from holiday in the Caribbean and will probably seek relection as well. Quite surprisingly, Jeremy Hunt has already indicated that he will not run. To elect a new leader in just over a week, then Sir Graham Brady may well set the nominations ‘bar’ quite high as well as the percentage needed to progress to the next round of voting. All of the opposition parties are clamouring for there to be a General Election but in order to get this, the Tories would have to bring down their own government by not supporting them in a vote of confidence which is rather like turkeys voting for Christmas. The commentators are making the observation repeatedly that the modern Conservative party may well be ungovernable. As well as being divided by age and by geography, the Tory party is riven by factions of which the most influential is the ERG (European Research Group = extreme Brexit loving right wingers), the ‘One Nation’ group (old fashioned, quite liberal and left of centre Tories), the Red Wall (recently elected into ex-Labour seats in the North and the Midlands), the Blue Wall seats (traditional Tories from the South of England), the libertarian right, some Remainers, those loyal to Boris Johnson, those who loathe Rishi Sunak seeing him as the architect of Boris Johnson’s downfall and I could go on. From the outside, the party looks almost ungovernable.

Trying to predict the outcome of the election requires a brave pundit. The bookies are already putting Rishi Sunak as favourite but I suspect that this does not take into account the depth of hostitility to Rishi Sunak. On the other hand, Penny Mordaunt only came eight votes behind Liz Truss in the leadership elections and seems to have performed reasonably well as as Leader of the House of Commons, even deputising for Liz Truss the other day. I suspect that the final two will be Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt and, if I had to stick my neck out, I would back Penny Mordaunt to eventually win through. This is because I suspect that Penny Mordaunt has fewer enemies and may be better placed to bring various factions of the party on board. One of Liz Truss multiple crass errors was to appoint a Cabinet absolutely in her own image giving no seats to supporters of rival candidates, irrespective of their merits (a mistake even Margaret Thatcher did not make). In addition, she only had the support of less than a third of the parliamentary party, making her the ‘mirror image’ of Jeremy Corbin on the Labour left. In order to expedite the election, it appears that candidates to replace Liz Truss as Tory leader will need at least 100 nominations from Conservative MPs, 1922 Committee chair Sir Graham Brady has said.