Just over a month has passed since Liz Truss won the Conservative leadership contest and yet doubts over her durability as Prime Minister have already begun to emerge. With one significant policy U-turn already (the proposed cut to the 45p rate of tax) and with a number of other issues bubbling under the surface, the idea that Truss may not lead the Conservatives into the next election is no longer farfetched.
This H/Advisors Cicero briefing contains a breakdown of how a challenge and/or resignation may occur and what would happen next.
Is Truss safe from a no confidence vote?
Under the current rules, yes. Having just been elected leader, Liz Truss is theoretically safe from a no confidence vote for another 11 months, even if 15% of the Conservative Parliamentary Party write to the Chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady.
However, the rules could be changed by the 1922 Committee to either suspend the 12-month rule, amend it (e.g. to three or six months), or abolish it altogether. Should this happen, and should the 15% threshold be met, then a vote of no confidence would be held in the Prime Minister’s leadership.
In addition, a Government can only continue in office if it has the ‘confidence’ (or support) of the House of Commons. Whilst majority governments are assumed to have confidence through the number of seats they hold in the House of Commons, governments can also themselves designate a particular vote as being a ‘matter of confidence’ in order to scare backbenchers into voting with the whip.
Although it is unlikely to happen given the Tories retain their Parliamentary advantage over Labour and the other opposition parties, a motion of no confidence in His Majesty’s Government could be forced by the Official Opposition and, depending on the votes of Conservative backbenchers, could oust Truss as Prime Minister. A confidence motion tabled by the official opposition is given priority as a matter of Parliamentary convention for a debate and vote in the House of Commons.
If the Government loses a confidence motion, it can either resign in favour of an alternative government taking office – which would need to give assurances to the King that a new majority can be assembled – or it can seek a dissolution of Parliament, leading to a general election.
It is worth remembering however that even at the height of Theresa May’s unpopularity in January 2019 her Government survived a Vote of No Confidence tabled by Jeremy Corbyn, as backbench Tory MPs closed ranks and voted to keep their beleaguered Prime Minister in office.
Could she be forced out by the Cabinet?
Yes, although that remains unlikely at this stage. While Truss has created many enemies for herself by not appointing any Rishi Sunak supporters to her Cabinet, her top team is now full of loyalists who backed her in the leadership contest. Even with polls looking particularly dire for the Tories, it is currently unlikely her Cabinet would stage the kind of intervention we saw back in July when Boris Johnson was forced out by a spate of resignations and senior Ministers telling him he had to go.
However, it is notable that tensions are already rising within Truss’ Cabinet, with tensions already visible between the PM and Chancellor, and senior figures such as Penny Mordaunt openly going beyond Government lines on issues such as welfare policy. Despite appointing a largely supportive Cabinet, it is conceivable that things change quickly in this respect and the loyalty of senior Ministers will be a key indicator to monitor.
Could she be brought down a different way?
Yes, the Truss Government could lose votes on the Finance Bill (the legislative vehicle for any Budget) or on the King’s Speech which would set out her legislative programme – traditionally seen as confidence matters. There are reports already that the Finance Bill will be pushed back until the spring, and that the only budgetary measure MPs will vote for in the coming weeks will be on the reversal of the National Insurance increase. Given the cross-party support for this measure, it is unlikely to fail. However, the postponement of the Finance Bill suggests that there is not a lot of confidence that all Tory MPs will vote with the Government on key measures announced in the fiscal event back in September.
How might a leadership contest operate?
The consensus is that the Conservative Party cannot afford to hold another two-month long leadership contest, especially not so soon after the last one. There are therefore only two options:
The second option seems the most likely. In 2003, having lost a confidence vote, Iain Duncan Smith resigned as Tory leader. As soon as the result of the confidence vote was known, senior MPs and prospective candidates David Davis and Oliver Letwin announced that they would be supporting the former Home Secretary, Michael Howard, who had emerged as the preferred candidate among the backbenchers. With other possible contenders such as the former Chancellor, Ken Clarke, and the then Deputy Leader Michael Ancram, declining to run, Howard was elected unopposed just eight days later.
Who might run?
Can Truss reset and survive?
It might seem difficult to fathom now, but a scenario in which Truss regains her footing and continues until the next election remains highly plausible. Having only been in post for a month, many MPs will want to give her the benefit of the doubt, and tomorrow’s keynote speech in Birmingham will be a prime opportunity for a ‘reset’ moment.
In addition, she could always conduct a reshuffle, and remove her Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, in order to bring in a figure which could command the respect of both the Parliamentary party and the markets. Such a move would show her to be less ideological than previously assumed, and would demonstrate flexibility at a time of economic volatility which would help calm the markets. The name touted is Sajid Javid, who briefly served as Boris Johnson’s Chancellor between 2019 and 2020.
We will continue to provide updates and analysis as the days and weeks unfold. Should you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in touch.
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