Tories are gathering ahead of their annual conference with the party in grim mood after the disastrous reception for Kwasi Kwarteng’s tax-cutting mini-budget.
Liz Truss may have been hoping for a triumphal reception when she arrives in Birmingham for her first conference after her victory in the election to succeed Boris Johnson.
But less than a month after entering No 10 her position is under fire, with some Conservative MPs questioning whether she will still be in office at the end of the year.
It follows a tumultuous week which saw the pound slump to a record low against the dollar and the Bank of England step in to prevent the collapse of the pensions industry in the wake of Mr Kwarteng’s £45 billion package of unfunded tax cuts.
There are fears of more pain to come as the Bank is forced to ratchet up interest rates to shore up the currency and keep a lid in on rising inflation, while public services are braced for another spending squeeze.
With the Tories tanking in the opinion polls – one poll last week giving Labour a massive 33-point lead – some Conservative MPs have been calling for a change of direction.
There are reports of letters going in to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, from MPs calling for a vote of no confidence.
While under current rules she is protected from a leadership challenge for a year from her election, the 1922 executive has the power to change those rules should the demand for a contest become overwhelming.
Meanwhile a number of senior figures – including Ms Truss’s defeated leadership rival Rishi Sunak and former cabinet ministers Priti Patel, Sajid Javid and David Davis – are reportedly staying away from the conference.
South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge became the latest backbencher to criticise the Chancellor’s plans, saying that while change was needed, reducing benefits while cutting taxes for top earners in a cost-of-living crisis was “unacceptable”.
“This does not mean that, having lost market support for proposed unfunded tax measures, we try to win that support anew with on-the-back-foot, un-pitch-rolled cuts to benefits when the cost of food and staples is rocketing, whilst keeping a tax cut for the wealthiest,” he tweeted.
But this does NOT mean that, having lost market support for proposed unfunded tax measures, we try to win that support anew with on-the-back-foot, un-pitchrolled cuts to benefits when the cost of food and staples is rocketing, whilst keeping a tax cut for the wealthiest. (4/4)
— James Cartlidge MP 🇬🇧 🇺🇦 (@jcartlidgemp) October 1, 2022
So far, however, the Prime Minister and her Chancellor have shown no signs of backing down in the face of the barrage of criticism.
Cutting taxes to stimulate economic growth was a central plank of her leadership campaign, and any retreat would be hugely damaging politically.
At the same time, however, her position is potentially precarious with fewer than a third of Tory MPs having voted for her in the initial MPs’ voting part of the contest.
Critics accuse her of being driven by an overly ideological, free market approach for which she has little or no mandate and which risks irreparable damage to electoral prospects.
Against that, there is concern at the implications if the party were to ditch a third leader in the space of little over three years.
Former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who backed Mr Sunak for the leadership, said that Ms Truss should be be given a fair chance to establish herself.
“I think we have to give Liz Truss time. I didn’t vote for her myself, but she won the election fair and square and we have to give her time,” he told GB News.
“It obviously was a very wobbly week. But we have to let things settle down. And that I think will be the time to make judgments.”
The conference opens on Sunday with tributes to the late Queen. The real political meat, however, comes on Monday when Mr Kwarteng addresses members and Wednesday when Ms Truss delivers the final leader’s speech.
It could be another bumpy week ahead.