OPINION / VIEWPOINT
Tory MPs are now worried about own jobs
Published: Oct 10, 2022 09:52 PM
Liz Truss Photo: AFP

Liz Truss Photo: AFP

Unemployment is the single most important issue currently dominating the thoughts of British MPs who are members of the ruling Conservative Party.

But their waking hours - and perhaps even their dreams at night - are not filled with fears about the work prospects of the general population. They're not losing sleep worrying about protecting the jobs of people already working, or about finding new employment for those who need it.

No. The jobs they are worried about are their own.

There seems to be open warfare in Liz Truss' new Cabinet, with ministers openly attacking, and counterattacking, over key policies, and the administration making humiliating U-turns. In British politics there is supposed to exist a convention known as collective Cabinet responsibility, in which members of that Cabinet are expected to support decisions taken by it collectively, despite what they may think privately. There's been little evidence of that recently.

The party's popularity ratings have hit historically low levels, with the opposition Labour Party taking a 33-point lead over the government in a nationwide survey. Another opinion poll focusing on London alone, where Labour has opened a 37-point lead, concluded that every single Tory MP in the capital would lose their seats if a General Election were held tomorrow - and, astonishingly, this even included former prime minister Boris Johnson. That means there are a lot of Tory MPs now worried about their job prospects.

The crisis has been triggered by events, largely self-inflicted, which have occurred only in the past four or five weeks - since Liz Truss became prime minister.

At the end of last month, chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng's controversial mini-budget sparked turmoil on financial markets: the Bank of England had to spend 65 billion pounds to prevent pension funds from collapsing; the International Monetary Fund criticized it in stark terms; mortgage lenders withdrew their house loans, and substituted them with higher-interest more expensive alternatives.

At the same time, an opinion poll concluded that three times as many people would prefer Labour's Keir Starmer as prime minister, instead of Truss. 

Truss' first party conference, in Birmingham a few days ago, could have been a triumphal celebration of her recent leadership victory. Instead, it took place in the shadow of splits and near mutinous behavior from her own politicians.

When other MPs criticized plans to scrap a 45-percent higher tax rate on the wealthy, new home secretary Suella Braverman accused them of mounting a "coup" against the PM. She was supported by Simon Clarke, the levelling up secretary. However, trade secretary Kemi Badenoch responded by calling Braverman's remark "inflammatory." Ministerial discipline seems to have completely broken down, seriously undermining Truss' authority as leader. 

Nadine Dorries, culture secretary under Johnson and someone regarded as a Truss supporter, has even suggested the PM should call a General Election to get public backing for her policies. Such a move however, in the light of opinion polls, would be disastrous for Truss and the Tories as they would almost certainly lose, and lose big.

The lack of party discipline, the factional side-taking and chaotic messaging makes for a dysfunctional government. This week Truss will be meeting her party's 1922 Committee, a party grouping of MPs through which party leaders can receive the unvarnished opinions of their backbenchers. She will hear their concerns. Her response will be critical to her future. If she stubbornly refuses to deviate from her course, more discord will be inevitable, perhaps even fatal, unless she can win them over. 

This means it is a legitimate question to ask whether Truss has what it takes to be party leader, let alone prime minister. She is fighting for her political life, and it is not clear whether she will survive - or for how long. If her MPs are worried enough about their own jobs, they may decide it is best for Truss to lose hers.

The author is a journalist and lecturer living in Britain. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn