Prime Minister Liz Truss holds a press conference at No9 Downing Street announcing Jeremy Hunt as her new Chancellor of the Exchequer. Image: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street
It’s fair to say it’s been a rocky start to life as prime minister for Liz Truss and she is already facing calls to resign.
Truss only began her Downing Street reign on September 5 after defeating Rishi Sunak in the Conservative Party leadership contest.
But doubts have been raised about her leadership after a disastrous mini-budget led to intensifying economic instability and she is already on the second chancellor of her premiership after she sacked Kwasi Kwarteng and replaced him with Jeremy Hunt.
It represents an embarrassing U-turn for the PM, but following Hunt’s statement on Monday her spokesperson said she had no plans to resign.
The pressure has continued to intensify on Truss. Home secretary Suella Braverman quit after breaking government security rules and criticised the government’s “direction” on immigration.
Just hours later a vote on a fracking ban descended into chaos with several senior Tory MPs refusing to back the government.
But is her position sustainable, or will Truss be forced to step down? Here’s where things stand.
Will Liz Truss survive?
It’s not been a great start for Truss in Downing Street. When she arrived at Number 10 in September the biggest immediate challenge she faced related to the cost of living crisis.
She took action on surging energy bills, introducing an energy price guarantee that capped the unit cost of electricity and gas for two years. It meant the typical British household would pay around £2,500 a year – much more than a year ago but less than forecasts that put energy prices above £3,000.
He also completely gutted all the other policies that were announced by Kwarteng in his mini-budget last month.
The so-called Growth Plan promised a swathe of tax cuts to corporation tax, income tax, National Insurance and stamp duty as well as axing a limit to bankers’ bonuses.
The plan, which was largely unfunded, spooked the financial markets and sent the value of the pound spiralling while Truss and Kwarteng were both under pressure to stand down.
Truss sacked Kwarteng on October 14, revealing the news at an eight-minute press conference where she also revealed some mini-budget U-turns. Truss said corporation tax would now go up from 19 per cent to 25 per cent in April 2023 as the Tories originally announced in March 2021.
Speaking at the press conference, Truss admitted the mini-budget “went further and faster than markets were expecting”.
Kwarteng had already announced changes to income tax that would see high earners pay less in tax would be scrapped.
The unravelling of the mini-budget continued with Hunt’s statement on October 17. He confirmed the government would scrap almost all of the tax changes unveiled in the mini-budget aside from the national insurance and stamp duty measures.
Hunt also said “more difficult decisions” are to come on public spending. Responding to the statement, Truss’s spokesperson said she had no plans to resign as prime minister.
Home secretary Suella Braverman quit on October 19 following a data breach and criticised the prime minister in her resignation letter citing “serious concerns about this government’s commitment to honouring manifesto commitments”.
The Tory party descended into further chaos just hours later. Labour’s motion on whether there would be a vote on banning fracking sparked confusion among Tory MPs after party whips signalled the vote could actually be about confidence in the government.
That led to reports from opposition MPs of senior Tories “manhandling” junior members of the party in the House of Commons lobby.
In total, 33 Conservatives abstained in the vote.
Sacked chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng was among the Tories who did not vote along with the government, as was ex-prime minister Theresa May and COP26 secretary Alok Sharma. They were joined by more ex-ministers members from Boris Johnson’s cabinet Priti Patel and Nadine Dorries.
What is Liz Truss approval rating in the polls?
So far, the Truss premiership has not impressed the polls.
Just one in 10 Brits had a favourable opinion of the prime minister on October 18, according to YouGov.
That left her with a net favourability score of -70 among Tory voters, a 14-point drop compared to the week before – and that’s before the impact of mini-budget U-turns, Braverman’s departure and the fracking vote fiasco is taken into account.
To put that into context, that means even Truss is less popular than her predecessor Boris Johnson. He had a net favourability score of -53 in the YouGov poll.
Will Liz Truss call a general election?
The next general election is not slated to take place until the end of 2024 but there have been calls for a vote from some quarters after Tory party members decided that Truss should replace Johnson.
The problem for the Conservative Party is a simple one: in the current circumstances it is very unlikely to win a general election. As a result. Truss is unlikely to call for one any time soon.
That would mean key Tory cabinet members like levelling up secretary Simon Clarke, business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg and health secretary and deputy prime minister Therese Coffey could all lose their seats at the next election. New chancellor Jeremy Hunt is also at risk.
Unsurprisingly, Labour is quite keen on a general election. Following the sacking of Kwarteng, Labour leader Keir Starmer said: “For the good of the country we need a general election.”
Labour has also now called for Truss to resign.
Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford have also called for an election as has Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford.
Even some in Truss’s party have called for an election, including former culture secretary and staunch Johnson loyalist Nadine Dorries.
Could Liz Truss be forced out?
Under Conservative Party rules, the prime minister cannot face a vote of no confidence during her first year in charge.
But that hasn’t stopped Tory MPs calling for her head or sending in letters of no confidence to the party’s 1922 Committee.
Reigate MP Crispin Blunt is one of the dissenters. He told Channel 4’s Andrew Neil Show: “I think the game is up.”
Andrew Bridgen, MP for North West Leicestershire, has also urged Truss to go. He said: “We cannot carry on like this. Our country, its people and our party deserve better.”
Jamie Wallis, the MP for Bridgend and Porthcawl, has also written to Truss calling for her to stand down, saying: “Mistakes can be undone, and as one united team I believe we could achieve almost anything. However, whilst you are our leader, I no longer believe this is possible.”
While 1922 Committee rules may be in place to save Truss currently, there is nothing to stop the party changing them if MPs want to remove Truss from office.
Hazel Grove MP William Wragg has publicly called for Truss to quit and submitted a letter of no-confidence in her leadership.
In the debate before the vote on a fracking ban on October 19, Wragg said: “If I was to vote in the way I would wish I would lose the whip. I would no longer be vice-chair of the 1922 committee… and indeed because of that my letter lodged [with 1922 chairman Sir Graham Brady] would fall and I wish to maintain that letter.”
Sir Roger Gale told Sky News new chancellor Hunt is already the “de-facto prime minister”. He said: “I think Jeremy Hunt has taken on the job – it’s quite clear that he’s taken on the job – on his own terms.”
If Truss was to go, many of the politicians who stood against her in the summer’s leadership contest may well be in the frame to replace her.
The most logical choice would be Rishi Sunak, who was defeated by Truss in the Conservative Party members’ vote to decide the next prime minister. Sunak came out on top among the Tory MPs but lost in the membership vote with 60,000 votes to Truss’s 81,000.
As a former chancellor, some in the party might see him as the man to come in and steady the ship financially. He clashed with Truss during leadership debates over plans to cut taxes, claiming she had promised “unfunded” tax cuts. While Truss said it was not true, the early days of her time in office may well have proven Sunak right.
Penny Mordaunt was only just pipped by Truss to the last two spots and has since been named the leader of the House of Commons. She could be in the frame to replace Truss.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace also has plenty of support among the Tory party and has been touted in the press as a possible replacement.
Sensationally, Johnson may also have some support for a return – Nadine Dorries has been speaking up his chances. He could face an uphill struggle to win back the public after he was forced out earlier this year following the fallout of Downing Street lockdown parties.