Truss has to make the speech of his life to turn his fortunes upside down

Birmingham, England

Despite only having been at work for a month, British Prime Minister Liz Truss has to give the speech of her life Wednesday if she is to get her fledgling premiership back on track.

His government was forced to make a screeching U-turn on Monday over a proposal to cut the UK’s top income tax rate, a move seen as insensitive aid to the wealthy as the British are experiencing the worst cost of living. life crisis for decades.

It was clear Sunday night, even as Truss was addressing a private reception at his Conservative Party’s annual conference in Birmingham, that the tax cut simply didn’t have enough support from his own Members of Parliament. This meant that his finance minister’s mini-budget, which also included measures to help people pay their energy bills, was very unlikely to survive a vote in the House of Commons.

Dissent rarely manifests itself so soon after a new leader takes control of a political party. But in this private Sunday night event, organized by the influential website ConservativeHome, CNN saw several prominent conservatives, including cabinet ministers, gossip and roll their eyes as Truss spoke in a packed hall, defending the tax cut. who was within hours of being axed.

On Tuesday, Truss’s enemies focused on forcing her to commit to a promise made under the latest prime minister, Boris Johnson, to increase welfare payments in line with inflation. At the time of writing, the government insists it will not give in a second time, even though one of Truss’s ministers claimed to do so in a radio interview.

Several conservative MPs told CNN on Monday night and Tuesday morning that if he doesn’t use Wednesday’s speech to put his authority on the party, they fear dissent will worsen and open disloyalty could undermine the entire government.

Allies and enemies have different views on the merits of the tax cuts, but they all agree on one thing: the message on both politics and the U-turn has been sparse.

“I wouldn’t have done it in the first place, but ditching a peak policy at our conference after insisting that it would stay, then blaming everyone else makes us look completely untrustworthy,” said a so-called Wall Conservative. red”. a term referring to the seats in the north of England that traditionally vote for Labor but supported Boris Johnson in the last election.

Truss had tried to distance himself from politics, telling the BBC Sunday morning that it had come from Finance Minister Kwasi Kwarteng, prompting to claim that he was throwing it. “under a bus”.

On Monday, Kwarteng had to address the party faithful from the conference stage. He delivered a brief defensive speech in which he called the tax cut a “distraction,” a term that had clearly become the official party line after the policy was abandoned, given the number of ministers who used it.

Kwarteng and his group wanted to let the British know that “we understand” and “we have to move on”. It may be slightly harder for Truss to wash his hands from this PR nightmare.

At the time of publication, CNN understands that its advisors are planning to have its Wednesday speech include a short, concise explanation of what happened and why, although it likely stops before an apology.

They are eager to reiterate that the UK has pledged to limit household and business energy bills, potentially costing the government billions of pounds.

“Haven’t we committed enough energy already?” a senior adviser to Truss told CNN.

It may not be enough. Many in Birmingham were dismayed by how defensive Kwarteng’s speech was and how little it revealed.

Adding to the sense of chaos in the party, Suella Braverman, the secretary of the interior, told the Telegraph’s Chopper’s Politics podcast that those who forced Truss out of the tax cut plan had “staged a coup and undermined the Prime Minister. in an unprofessional way “.

Grant Shapps, a former transportation secretary under Johnson, told the News Agents podcast that Truss had 10 days to change his leadership, according to a partial transcript of the interview. tweeted before publication.

A senior Conservative said Truss will have to “show us something that gives us hope of having a chance to win the next election.”

It has not yet been decided whether he plans to get some rabbits out of the hats on Wednesday. Many of her lawmakers would like to see some high-level policies on investing in disadvantaged areas or national infrastructure, the kind of policies Johnson used to reveal in similar forums, according to her advisers.

However, Truss’s proposal to be the leader was that of a small-state conservative who cut taxes. On Tuesday morning, a senior adviser to the prime minister told CNN that such expensive policies would not be his style and, unless they were genuinely “revolutionary”, they would appear “desperate” and “cynical”.

Furthermore, conservatives across the party say that even if Truss wanted to make a big spending effort, it would be incompatible with the economic picture she and her ministers painted.

Which leaves Truss somewhere between a rock and a hard spot at midday in Birmingham on Wednesday. The leader’s speech at the party conference is a focal point of the political calendar. It’s an opportunity for the government to brag about its record and rally troops for the next 12 months.

Instead, the prime minister will spend Wednesday trying to rally a party that she and her government have stumbled upon and knocked to the ground. She needs to offer her allies enough ideological purity to renew their support, while also giving those who reject her mandate to destroy Johnson’s agenda enough treats to keep them quiet.

He must do so because the morale of his party is in a precarious state. MPs with a huge majority speak privately as if they’ve already lost their jobs, talking to people at drink events during the next career move conference. Truss needs to restore discipline in his cabinet and throughout the party.

Several people, from insiders to lobbyists to European diplomats, agreed that this looks like a party getting out of government. That doesn’t mean it’s inevitable and Truss could turn things around before January 2025, the deadline for calling the next general election. But unless conservatives can pull themselves out of their despondency and numbness, that seething sense of terror could consume everything. And often in politics, the most dangerous thing is not a set of politics or the rise of an opposition, but a creeping sense of inevitability that the end is near.


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