Poor Liz Truss.

My post yesterday about her and Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s U-turn on the abolition of the 45% tax rate showed how much the media were running Truss’s premiership.

Cracks are showing

Unfortunately, the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham has revealed the factions among Conservative MPs opposed to either Truss or her policies.

This indicates that the cracks in the parliamentary Conservative Party likely began during the mourning period for Queen Elizabeth II in the same way that anti-Boris Conservative MPs sent their no-confidence letters to Sir Graham Brady of the 1922 Committee during the monarch’s Platinum Jubilee bank holiday weekend at the beginning of June.

No sooner had Parliament reconvened on the first Monday in June than Conservative MPs held a confidence vote on Boris Johnson’s premiership.

One name has been brought up in the overall rebellion against Liz Truss: Michael Gove.

Gove ‘a natural plotter’

On Monday evening, The Spectator‘s Isabel Hardman asked, ‘What does Michael Gove want?’

As I wrote yesterday, Gove even turned against the Prime Ministers under whom he served in Cabinet, beginning with his first PM, David Cameron. That was over Brexit. The victory went to Gove.

He worked against Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign in 2016, after Leave won the Brexit referendum on June 23. He told Boris he would lead his campaign then pulled out just before Boris was to have announced his candidacy.

It’s no surprise that, when Boris became PM in July 2019, he gave Gove Cabinet positions in a ‘Keep your enemies closer’ move. Those lasted until this past summer.

After the 2022 leadership contest, Gove said he would take a back seat. But did he?

He currently seems to be involved in stirring the pot with regard to benefits — welfare — increases involving the new Work and Pensions Secretary Chloe Smith, who said at conference earlier this week:

protecting the most vulnerable is a big priority for me.

Isabel Hardman points out (emphases mine):

It sounds quite anodyne, but given one of the big battles of the autumn is going to be over whether benefits are raised in line with inflation, it was a clear marker that Smith doesn’t think that trying to get some savings this way is the right thing to do. She’s not a noisy cabinet minister and is much more likely to make her arguments behind closed doors. But she does also have a very helpful backbench campaign led by someone who loves a public fight: Michael Gove.

Hardman says that Gove is busy at work, doing the rounds at the conference’s fringe events:

What is Gove’s endgame? He hasn’t packed up his bags since Kwarteng U-turned on the 45p: instead, he was still touring the fringe this evening. He has made clear that the benefit rise must go ahead, and many of his colleagues have made the same point to Kwarteng themselves.

Gove could decide to use Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch in his manoeuvres. He backed her in the summer leadership contest until she lost, at which point he backed Rishi Sunak:

But even if it does, that’s not going to be the former minister’s last battle. Tory MPs are fascinated by where he wants this to end. Is he still hoping that Kemi Badenoch, who he initially backed for leader, could yet take over from Truss? Badenoch had a really good stint on the conference stage in the most lively session of the [Monday] afternoon programme. She had members eating out of her hand as she talked about taking pride in Britain, about immigration, and about culture wars. Perhaps Gove might want her star to rise further. Or perhaps he is still holding out for Rishi Sunak, who he later backed, and who is staying away from the conference to allow Liz Truss to ‘own the moment’.

In any event:

there is a lot of bad feeling among MPs about the way some parts of his [Sunak’s] campaign operated. Then again, there’s just a lot of bad feeling and mistrust in the party now. The one thing Truss has managed to unite her party on is that MPs in every faction are now annoyed with her.

This year’s conference meeting schedule, centred more around fringe events than the main speeches, is likely to deepen these rifts:

Tory conference has long been more stage-managed than other party meetings, but this year the official speeches from ministers have also been condensed into a very strange late afternoon slot lasting just two hours. The rest of the time is free for fringe meetings and plotting.

The main addresses are supposed to be content-light this year, which is unlikely to please Party members:

Ministers and their aides have been told they have to keep their addresses to the hall announcement-lite, which makes those two hours feel largely pointless.

Kwarteng not only had to do a U-turn on abolishing the 45% tax rate, he also was forced into bringing forward his medium-term fiscal plan. That’s two U-turns by the second day of conference:

Kwasi Kwarteng didn’t announce very much at all, even though his two U-turns have dominated the day’s agenda. This morning, the Chancellor dropped the plan to abolish the 45p rate of tax, and this evening it has emerged that he is also bringing forward his medium-term fiscal plan from 23 November – something ministers had been asked to hold the line on.

Work and Pensions Secretary Chloe Smith held up a script at a fringe event to show that what appears to be spontaneous is actually scripted in advance:

A clue to the next potential U-turn came not in one of the speeches but in one of the considerably more-scripted and stage-managed ‘discussions’. These have been going on for years at Conservative conference: a minister or two is relegated from a formal speaking slot to a cosy and allegedly informal sit-down with someone who is often a very nice and slightly nervous small business owner, charity pioneer or environmental campaigner. The chit-chats involve a suspiciously large sheaf of notes: indeed, in this particular ‘discussion’, Work and Pensions Secretary Chloe Smith largely abandoned the pretence that this was spontaneous and held her script up so she could read from it verbatim. But within that script, Smith had a line that she may well end up using against her ministerial colleagues such as Kwarteng in future. She told the hall that ‘we know that people are struggling with some of the costs that are rising’, adding: ‘That’s why protecting the most vulnerable is a big priority for me.’

Former Conservative MP Anne Widdecombe, who switched her allegiance to the Brexit Party and served as one of their MEPs in Brussels before the UK left the EU said that the Conservatives are in a dire state.

On Monday, she told GB News’s Bev Turner that the removal of the 45% tax band would have cost £2 billion at most, in contrast to the £150 billion bail out in order to help Britons with their energy bills.

She said that Truss and Kwarteng should have held their nerve and not caved in over their fiscal event plans from Friday, September 23. She surmises that they were worried about how the conference would go if they had stuck to their guns. Widdecombe said that they were aware of divisions in the Party but the tax rate U-turn, she said, would not win them any votes.

Turner said that removing the cap on bankers bonuses, also announced on September 23, would seem to be a more controversial move. Widdecombe, however, disagreed, explaining that the EU put a cap on bankers bonuses in place so that London would not be able to compete as well against Frankfurt and Paris in the financial services market. Removing the cap, she added, was part of the Brexit plan and, although it doesn’t seem so to ordinary people, will actually help the UK’s finances in the long term.

Bev Turner then turned Widdecombe’s thoughts to Michael Gove and Grant Shapps’s manoeuvres behind the scenes at conference. These included the objection to removing the 45% tax rate.

Widdecombe said:

Michael Gove is extremely dangerous. He spends all his time conspiring and plotting … I’ve known him for years … What he is not is a good colleague. He gets bees in his bonnet and sets out to destroy everything in his path. He’s done it with Boris … He is a plotter. He is a natural plotter. Can’t help himself

She said that Truss cannot have the whip removed from Gove, as Kwarteng has already U-turned on the 45% tax rate issue. For Truss to remove the whip after the fact, she said, would be useless. So, Truss can’t do anything to or about him for now.

Here’s the video, which is five-and-a-half minutes long:

How the U-turn came about

On Monday, October 3, The Sun‘s political editor Harry Cole got the scoop about how Truss and Kwarteng’s U-turn came about late on Sunday:

This is an incredible news story, revealing that Cabinet ministers did not know about the U-turn until they saw The Sun‘s website:

… our story, revealed at 12.20am, came as a shock to some of the most senior members of the government.

Four Cabinet ministers were enjoying a late-night drink when our story broke — leaving them speechless.

No one from No 10 had given them any warning.

After a brutal day of maulings from big beasts of the Tory party and dire warnings her mini-Budget would be voted down by MPs, the newbie PM was forced into a humiliating climbdown.

Gove and Shapps, along with other Rishi Sunak supporters, worked behind the scenes on Sunday:

Ex-Cabinet Ministers Grant Shapps, Julian Smith, Michael Gove, Mel Stride and Damian Green — all of whom backed Rishi Sunak — had spent the day stirring up rebellion and were confident that more than 40 MPs backed their concerns.

Was that why Sunak did not show up? He did say he wanted Truss ‘to own the moment’.

Graham Brady contacted Truss early on Sunday evening:

Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the powerful 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, had been to see a worried Ms Truss at 7pm to warn her she did not have the numbers to ram her tax cut plans through Parliament — despite a majority of 71.

Meanwhile, Kwarteng was in Birmingham’s lively city centre, planning on tucking into a curry dinner. My commiserations go to him. Birmingham is home to some of the nation’s finest Indian restaurants:

… her screeching about-turn would come as a shock to the Chancellor, who had been about to tuck into a beef curry at an upmarket restaurant across town.

He left his dinner before his main course turned up, rushing back for crisis talks with Truss, who told him: “It’s time to rip off the plaster.”

Kwarteng agreed to the U-turn, sensing trouble ahead:

Once on board, Mr Kwarteng was told he would have to be the face of the surrender the next day.

But it was a painful blow as he had already trailed his big speech to the conference into the next day’s papers, insisting there would be no U-turns and saying: “We must stay the course.”

Taking to the stage on Monday afternoon for that speech, an exasperated Chancellor said: “What a day.”

The divisions are many and deep:

The mood among some Cabinet ministers is one of despair at the state of the Tory party, which is at risk of becoming unmanageable.

And that, in turn, will leave the Government unable to actually govern, leaving the country adrift at the worst possible time.

There are potential mutineers everywhere Truss turns.

After 12 years of Tory rule, there are more than 50 sacked and embittered ex-ministers who do not have much to lose.

This is a group that includes MPs who served under Theresa May and continue to be enraged by her Brexit downfall.

Then there are supporters of Rishi Sunak, who are enjoying the “I told you so” moment.

Some still think it’s possible to kill Truss now and have Rishi anointed in a coronation.

Throw in the still-ongoing Brexit wars — Truss, having converted from Remain, is firmly in the Remainiac crosshairs — and it’s a poisonous, chaotic mix.

One Cabinet minister said: “They’ve taken the bat off Boris, broken it into pieces and given chunks to the different warring sides to beat each other with. It’s like Lord of the Flies.”

However, a week is a long time in politics:

“All’s not lost yet”, one minister said.

A week is a long time. We have two years to turn this around. We might not win the next election — but we can at least make ourselves competitive”.

City AM‘s Andy Silvester doesn’t hold out much hope, though:

What the public think

It’s difficult for those of us who are not economists to know what to believe about the upper tax rate U-turn.

And we trust journalists even less than ourselves. We are doing better researching the matter online through independent sites rather than the mainstream media.

The media told us that abolishing the upper rate of tax would affect Sterling. Hmm. On Tuesday morning, it was holding steady after the Bank of England’s intervention at the end of last week:

Did the U-turn have anything to do with exchange rates, though?

One Guido Fawkes reader said that it did not:

Good job Kwasi dropped the 45p tax cut, which, according to the MSM, affected the pound. Anyone knows it did not but he can use it to his advantage: if I borrow more for benefits, giving away money, it will damage the pound and interest rates causing more financial hardship to working tax payers.

So I would love to help but need to get inflation down.

Again being run by all the MSM at the same time to affect the government its disgusting.

He blames Michael Gove and, possibly, Boris’s former adviser Dominic Cummings:

Gove and likely helped by Cummings … maybe Truss could ask Boris come out against him that he is damaging the party first him now Truss. Truss did stay loyal to Boris. Gove destroying his own party does not make him a formidable politician

Another commenter cannot understand what the rebels hope to achieve:

What on earth are the rebels trying to achieve? Collapse the government and shoo-in Labour? If not- what’s the end-game? Parachute in Sunak against the expressed wishes of the grassroots party membership? That’ll end well. Ultimately- Truss was chosen by the members on the basis of pursuing a pro-business, pro-growth agenda. She is now trying to do exactly that and is being undermined by people who offer no viable alternative.

Someone else said the anti-Truss movement is reminiscent of the anti-Brexit rebellion Theresa May had to endure in 2019:

It’s looking very much like this is going to be a repeat of the debacle over Brexit.

Mr Gove should have the good grace to accept the wishes of all Conservative Party members, who voted for Liz Truss, and not the legislative agenda of a few disaffected Blairite “Conservative” MPs, who bizarrrely seem to think that more of the same is going to free us from the social and financial quagmire such policy has led us to in the last 25 years.

I give the current government about 6 months.

Another said that Gove is firmly to blame:

One Cabinet Secretary telling the Daily Express they weren’t surprised by Mr Gove’s actions because he is a “disloyal ****”. When told about Mr Gove’s remarks another senior Cabinet Minister used the same four-letter expletive.

The next battle will be over how much to increase benefits: average salary rates or the inflation rate:

Chief whip needs to get a grip and threaten deselection to all those publicly declaring their duplicity and treachery. Removing the whip from Gove would be a good start. No rise in benefits when there are mass vacancies to be filled and when there is no pay rise for the private sector. Too many different factions in the Tories so no chance of collective responsibility.

More on that tomorrow.

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