‘Like being in a cult’: MPs on the seven days that brought Liz Truss down | Liz Truss

Jhere are countless indignities in becoming Britain’s shortest prime minister ever, and a new one came on Friday morning when a No 10 official was able to confirm that Liz Truss had moved into the Downing Street flat – but not if she’d had enough time to fully unpack.

Truss is spending the weekend at another Prime Minister’s residence, Checkers country retreat, where she will likely reflect on the month and a half of chaos she has visited on herself and the nation, a heady and compressed post which ended with Thursday’s 89-second quit. word.

It’s not just the Prime Minister who still accepts one of the most stunning political weeks in UK history – even by the accelerated standards of the post-2016 era – or with the rise and fall widest drops of Truss-mania.

A weary Tory MP said he felt like he had been in the grip of a cult for the past six weeks – and escaped just in time. Others, however, still felt trapped, they said. “That’s literally what it was… It’s such a feeling of relief. I just thank God it’s over.

If there is a common emotion within a still atomized Conservative parliamentary party, which has just plunged into yet another murderous leadership race, it is this feeling of disbelief at what it has been through.

“I thought I had seen it all, being a veteran of Brexit votes, this whole time,” said one backbench MP. “But just when you think you’ve seen it all, something else happens. And a lot of things seemed to be happening this week.

As Truss retreats to Checkers — the 10-bedroom floor plan she barely had a chance to learn about after an initial post-Boris Johnson renovation — she might reminisce about a week ago, when her position seemed simply hopeless, rather than terminal.

That’s not to say the mood was upbeat then, even among Truss’s close allies. “The hardest thing is to get up in the morning and lie to yourself that the battle is still winnable,” sighed a minister earlier this week. “You have to try to convince others, but I still have a hard time convincing myself.”

It is nonetheless fair to say that as recently as Monday there was a consensus among Tory MPs that Truss’ remaining time in office could still be measured in weeks, if not months.

With the Treasury having restored some stability to the markets in light of Jeremy Hunt’s fiscal discipline as new chancellor, most Tory MPs apparently agreed it would be unwise to depose the PM at least before the budget statement scheduled for October 31.

What changed? As shocking as the removal of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary on Wednesday afternoon after a still murky sequence of events centered around the use of personal email to send government documents, many MPs are tracing the final collapse of events a few hours later.

The failed delivery of a relatively routine opposition motion on fracking by Truss ministers and whips has been well documented, including allegations of shouting, abuse and even physical manipulation of reluctant Tory MPs during a vote that the government was always likely to win easily.

MPs in the Division lobby during the vote on fracking.
MPs in the Division lobby during the vote on fracking. Photography: Chris Bryant/Twitter

What has become clearer since then is how that debacle cemented the idea in MPs’ minds that this was a government that couldn’t even settle the basics and needed to be kicked out as soon as possible.

An MP who was among those who rebelled by not voting – ‘I hid in my office so I missed all the fun’ – said the episode left them baffled. “Even when I got home, I still didn’t know if it was supposed to be a vote of confidence or not. But I haven’t received a message yet that I’ve lost the whip, so I guess I must still be a Tory MP.

As the week progressed, more backbenchers who had previously grumbled to colleagues about their concerns publicly called on Truss to leave.

“It’s not an easy thing to do, because you know you’re going to be in the black book forever, and you don’t know when it’s going to go,” said one MP who spoke out. “I thought, ‘This is the end. They will crucify me. But I also thought I had to.

The leadership race sparked by Truss’s departure only lasts a week, meaning predictions about his successor are necessarily difficult. But many Tory MPs seem to agree on two potentially contradictory things: that Boris Johnson might just win; and that the party must unite behind the winner.

A common belief is that if Johnson reaches the bottom two in Monday’s vote by MPs, he is likely to win among Tory members, who will choose the new leader, if necessary, in an online ballot taking place from Tuesday see you on Friday.

One MP said: “I’m in a working class seat, and he still has a lot of support here. A lot of people were annoyed when he went there, and not just conservative activists. And I think he will get the nomination of the deputies. All his buddies will vote for him, the ones who brought Liz Truss in.

Another backbench MP said they and their colleagues were painfully aware voters would not tolerate even more disunity under a third prime minister since the 2019 election.

“If the party doesn’t collapse, then it really is an existential threat,” they said. “If we don’t rally around Boris, or Rishi, or Penny, or whoever it is, then the calls for a general election would become overwhelming.

“So it’s make or break, it really is. I don’t necessarily believe these polls that show us we’ve won 23 seats or whatever. But then look at Canada – the progressives- Conservatives have been wiped out. These are unprecedented times, so who’s to say it couldn’t happen here?”

See also  Pakistan summons US Ambassador Donald Blome after Biden remarks