The Defenestration of Liz Truss

Photograph Source: Simon Dawson / No10 Downing Street Posted by: Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and The Rt Hon – OGL 3

“There is nothing there [In Truss]: nothing beyond a leaping self-confidence that is almost endearing its wide-eyed disregard for the forces of political gravity”.

– Ex-Tory MP Matthew Parris writing in The Times (December 2021)

 “She’s crackers. It isn’t going to work”.

– Parris, The Times (August 2022, as Truss was about to become prime minister)

Liz Truss became prime minister on 5 September and her 45 days in office made her the shortest serving PM in UK history. She couldn’t even match the record held by the old Etonian Tory George Canning, who spent 119 days as Prime Minister, from April to August 1827, before dying suddenly in office.

So brief was her time in office that The Guardian ran a feature which matched Truss against a list of other shortest-serving world leaders.

Truss is the sole architect of her downfall. Her disastrous “mini-budget” (a euphemism for it not being an official budget statement), presented on 23 September by her chancellor of the exchequer/finance minister Kwasi Kwarteng, sank like a ton of lead when announced, creating a crisis everywhere from bond and currency markets to household budgets.

The UK economy has been flatlining since the 2008 financial crisis. Tory austerity since 2010 has strangled investment and public spending, while increasing household debt; Brexit was always a pack of false promises and turned out to be a costly bust; the mismanaged Covid pandemic enhanced financial burdens all round (except for Tory cronies and donors who made a fortune from crooked Covid contracts); and inflation is now at a higher level (10.1%) than most industrialized countries. Meanwhile wages have stagnated.

Since 2016 the UK economy has declined from being 90% the size of Germany’s to being just 70% today.

After the 2008 financial crash, incomes in France grew by 34% and in Germany by 27%, while the UK’s fell by 2%, says the Resolution Foundation.

The Food Foundation says that 25% of UK households are now in food poverty.

The catastrophic mini-budget, said in social media to be “libertarian jihadism gone mad”, called immediately in its dire aftermath for sacrificial victims, and these included the boundlessly arrogant Kwarteng and his sidekick, the oleaginous Chris Philp who was the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

They were thrown overboard by Truss in a bid to save her own skin.

In his first major act as the new chancellor, Jeremy Hunt set fire to the controversial mini-budget in a bid to calm the financial markets.

This calming effort notwithstanding, the Tories are on a serious skid (Truss or no Truss).

A YouGov poll last week showed that almost 8 in 10 people, 77%, now disapprove of the Conservatives, the highest number seen in 11 years.

Nine in 10, 87%, believe the government is mishandling the economy.

A slightly smaller number, 80%, said the Tories handling taxation badly.

A majority of those polled, 60%, said they now expect Labour to win the next general election.

It was thought initially that Truss’s defenestration would be delayed by a quandary, seemingly insurmountable, faced by Tory MPs.

Truss’s successor will be the 5th Tory prime minister since 2016, and this person will have the task of leading the Tories into a 2024 general election campaign where this death-spiral “instability” will almost certainly arise as a major issue. And this leaving aside the party’s disastrous policy trajectory in government over the last 12 years, which can be summed-up thus:

From Austerity Mk 1 (Cameron/Osborne)

to Brexit (Johnson/Theresa May)

to Covid pandemic mismanagement (Johnson)

to post-Brexit turmoil (Johnson)

to political chaos (Johnson/Truss)

to financial chaos and a tanking economy (Truss/Kwarteng)

to public sector & NHS crises (all the above leaders)

and now Austerity Mk2 (Jeremy Hunt while he remains chancellor)

At the same time, it became increasingly obvious that Truss’s position was irredeemable and that the longer she remained in office, there would be many fewer Conservative MPs seated in the Commons after the next election.

But MPs also did not want a repeat of the previous 2-month-long leadership campaign they suffered all summer, which left a paralyzed government making room for rounds of meaningless hustings where candidates bickered endlessly and mouthed the same vapid slogans ad nauseam.

The leadership contest with be run by the backbench 1922 Committee, whose chair Graham Brady said the process should be concluded by Friday 28 October. The aim is that a new prime minister will be in place in time for the financial statement on 31October (unless that is postponed).

That important statement is intended to reassure the financial markets that the government has a plan to mend the nation’s finances.

Candidates in the leadership contest will need at least 100 nominations from Tory MPs, a much higher threshold than the start of the previous leadership election.

Brady also said that hustings for MPs would be held behind closed doors on Monday 24 October, after nominations are closed that morning.

The high threshold for nominations was intended to limit voting to the most serious candidates. Since there are 345 Tory MPS, only 2 or 3 contenders will make it to the vote.

The Tory party chairman Jake Berry said there would only be an online vote for grassroots members if 2 candidates make it through the parliamentary stages.

The crucial consideration is the role of grassroots party members in the leadership vote.

Truss was made Tory leader by 160,000 mainly elderly, tribalistic, racist and Islamophobic, and predominantly white Tory party members. Many would vote for the far-right UKIP if it stood a chance of winning their constituency.

The Tories have used UKIP-type culture wars to make their policies (Brexit foremost) acceptable to “yer average Brit”, while hiding from Brits the fact that Brexit and these policies were really a Tory ploy allowing their coalition of privileged interests to get rich at the expense of Joe and Jill Normal.

The limited role assigned this time to ordinary party members is intended to forestall “anti-wokerist” and populist appeals to these members. If so, candidates with a far-right populist pitch a la Truss are likely to be sidelined this time round.


Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.