She broke the inglorious record for the shortest stay in sffice on 10 Downing Street. Liz Truss is leaving

Forty-five days – no British prime minister has been in office for as short a time as Liz Truss, who resigned on Thursday, October 20. In doing so, the PM broke the record, although, of course, it is not something to be proud of. It proves that – contrary to expectations and against her own declarations and convictions, that she was the right person in the right place – she could not cope with the challenges of governing.

Just one day earlier, during a session of the House of Commons, Liz Truss, when asked by the opposition why she had stubbornly remained in her position, replied curtly: “I’m a fighter, not a quitter.” Earlier, in spite of it all, she insisted that she would lead the Conservatives to victory in the elections, though probably no one believed it.

It had already become clear that Liz Truss was not and probably would not become the new incarnation of Margaret Thatcher. The Prime Minister from 1979–1990 is like the Sèvres (finest French porcelain) model for women active in politics, and not only in Great Britain. When a woman takes up a high office somewhere, questions always loom in the background as to whether she has the makings of an “Iron Lady.” It is not so much about Margaret Thatcher’s policies as about her leadership qualities. Mrs. Thatcher possessed them to a high degree. It was no accident that she was said to be the only man in her cabinet. Today, this would be considered a shameful expression of sexism, but it used to be an expression of genuine appreciation.

Liz Truss showed that she did not have leadership qualities when she defended herself against criticisms of her economic policy, especially planned tax cuts, saying that they were not her idea but that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer (treasury minister) Kwasi Kwarteng. She is very ambitious, but she forgot that while promoting a policy, a leader should not hide behind their subordinates. That remark didn’t help her reputation.

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Yes – because in the Conservative Party, which she led, resistance against her was growing at an exponential pace. A dozen or so deputies had already publicly demanded the resignation of the PM, and the course of the vote on lifting the ban on shale gas extraction (held on the evening of Wednesday, October 19) showed that the situation was spinning out of control. The departure of Interior Minister Suella Braverman from the government was a signal that the situation from the last days of Boris Johnson’s government could repeat itself. The nails in the coffin of his cabinet were the resignations of consecutive ministers.

  No – because until the very last moment, as evidenced by the aforementioned declaration, Liz Truss did not show any readiness to step down. It was not possible to remove her because the Conservative Party’s rules did not allow for it. They state that a leader who receives a vote of confidence in an internal party vote and is approved as the head of the party, is safe for a year, because the removal procedure cannot be repeated in this timeframe. They can only step down on their own, voluntarily or under pressure from party colleagues, it doesn't matter. Since Liz Truss became the leader on September 6, she had a lot of time ahead of her. But, as it turns out, it only seemed so.

From the moment the Prime Minister abandoned carrying out the economic program that accompanied her leadership bid and handed over the reins of government in this area to Jeremy Hunt as the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, nothing more was expected of her other than refraining from meddling and allowing others to act. In short – remembering the memorable words of French President Jacques Chirac in 2003: she should seize the opportunity to sit quietly.

Let us recall then, how Liz Truss, who became the Tory leader with the support of 57% of party members by defeating Rishi Sunak, Boris Johnson’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, lost everything. She is leaving as a prime minister who has left nothing behind, apart from a gift for the opposition Labour Party in the form of a 36-point advantage over the Tories. If elections were to be held now, Labour would win.

“Too far, too fast”

“If someone asks if Prime Minister Liz Truss is still in power, the answer is: she is in office, but she is not in power” – the Daily Mail used these words in commenting on the situation of the head of the British government a few days before her resignation. The conservative-leaning The Spectator, was of the same opinion. On Monday, October 17, when considering whether Liz Truss would continue to be in power later that week, it briefly assessed the situation: “She is no longer in power.”
The malicious claim that Liz Truss’s only achievement was to take the last photo of Queen Elizabeth II. On September 6, 2022, the longest reigning monarch of Great Britain received Truss at an audience at the Scottish Balmoral Castle and entrusted her with the mission of forming a government. Two days later, Elizabeth II died in the jubilee year of her 70th anniversary on the throne. Photo: Jane Barlow – WPA Pool/Getty Images
These terse remarks – not exceptional, we must add – accurately captured the essence of the matter: Liz Truss, although retaining her position, lost her influence on shaping events.

In her last days in office – at her own request, but certainly against her wishes – the Prime Minister found herself in the shadow of the aforementioned Jeremy Hunt, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer appointed to replace the dismissed Kwasi Kwarteng. It happened on Friday, October 14, after only three weeks of actual work by the cabinet. Let us recall, Liz Truss took office on September 6, but the death of Queen Elizabeth II, funeral ceremonies and seven more days of mourning afterwards, delayed the work of the government.

Her mistakes cast Jeremy Hunt into the role of the white knight, and he, not Liz Truss, became the focus for the expectations of the Conservative Party, business circles, and the masses of ordinary Britons. The fundamental question was: what else can be saved? Will the new minister manage to calm the situation on the markets? Will the pound sterling improve after its dramatic collapse? What about national debt? Liz Truss intended to finance her plans with loans, but Jeremy Hunt does not want to increase the debt. At a time when the number one problem is the rising costs of living, which is largely related to rising energy prices, will the government be able to effectively help those who need it?

Consider social benefits and pensions, one of the most contested points of Liz Truss’s program. According to the government’s plan, their indexation was to be commensurate to the rate of wage growth, while the opponents of the PM insisted on an index tied to the inflation rate, or the planned freezing of household energy bills at £2,500 for two years. Jeremy Hunt intended to reduce this time to six months for a trial period, after which the effectiveness of the policy would be assessed.

Liz Truss did not defend her approach, and moreover, she found herself in a situation all the more difficult because such a time-limited solution had also been proposed by the Labour Party. The PM couldn’t really stand before the House of Commons and, accept Jeremy Hunt’s plans and indirectly admit that the opposition was right. So she chose silence and meaningless generalities, such as saying that it was a mistake to have wanted to carry out her plans “too far, too fast.”

“Not under a desk”

Besides, she had no good way out. She had to come to terms with the fact that Jeremy Hunt had canceled almost everything that made up her program. For example, tax cuts that were supposed to boost economic recovery and spur growth. While the prospect of paying lower taxes is always and everywhere welcome, this time the public reacted reluctantly. Everyone was to benefit, but the richest most – this is how the British perceived the planned abolition of the highest, 45% tax rate.
A bookie offers bets on who will be the next leader of the Conservative Party and prime minister of Great Britain after Liz Truss’s resignation, October 20, 2022. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
For the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, economic growth was not a priority. Jeremy Hunt was primarily concerned with balancing the budget, which is why he announced spending cuts – which Liz Truss, in turn, ruled out. So apart from minor things like lowering stamp duties, Hunt took a different course. Let us add that he also rejected another important point of Liz Truss’s program, that is increasing defense spending so that in 2026 it would reach the 2.5% of GDP, and 3% in the long term.

Liz Truss is not considered a good orator and does not like public speaking. She prefers to be represented by others whenever possible and avoids television interviews. But this also did nothing to improve her position, especially when colleagues had to make explanations for her. On Wednesday, October 19, during the weekly questioning hour in the House of Commons, Mrs. Truss appeared in person, but a day earlier, she had sent Penny Mordaunt, Leader of the House of Commons, who had to assure MPs that “the prime minister is not under a desk.” Which few probably believed.

Penny Mordaunt is Liz Truss’s rival for leadership, and she was ahead of her for a long time. This was the case in the first stage of the elections, which took place within the parliamentary faction, when the deputies, by eliminating successive candidates, nominated two people, who took part on the final election by all party members. When Penny Mordaunt dropped out, she backed Liz Truss and that is why she joined the government. The Prime Minister only entrusted ministerial positions to her supporters, breaking with the tradition that opponents should also be included in the cabinet. This good rule, unwritten but respected, serves to heal the wounds of a campaign in which conflicting arguments and interests, personal ambitions and the strangest arrangements, always clash.

The year of three prime ministers. Who will be the fourth?

So, the wounds have not healed and the conservatives are divided as never before. In addition, all the events of this year – lesser and greater scandals during the government of Boris Johnson, the uninspiring campaign to elect a new leader, the chaos of the first weeks of Liz Truss’s cabinet – accumulated, with disastrous results for the Conservatives. The specter of electoral defeat looms over them.

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There will be no elections, because the decision on this matter belongs to the ruling party, and the Conservatives have no reason to rush them. But the question that is nagging both the party leadership and rank and file deputies is clear: what will happen in January 2025, when the term of the current parliament ends? The MEPs have cause for concern because an about face by voters means their seats are at risk. Therefore, from their point of view, the change of leader was absolutely necessary. According to a survey by YouGov, as many as 55% of party members support the departure of Liz Truss. Many regret having supported her in the elections.

The year 2022 will therefore go down in history as the time when Great Britain will have had three prime ministers. There are countries where this is not unusual, but Great Britain is not one of them, though satirical cartoons have appeared recently, suggesting that the British might follow the example of the Italians in terms of government stability. Liz Truss’s resignation has put the question of her replacement on the agenda. The leader is to be elected in an accelerated process this week, bypassing the lengthy procedure that was used in the summer.

Who will it be? Rishi Sunak (48%), a recent rival of Mrs. Truss, who has hardly been visible in recent weeks, ranks first among potential candidates. Behind him are Penny Mordaunt (25%) and the popular Defense Minister Ben Wallace (10%). Jeremy Hunt, who has already run for leadership twice (this year and in 2019 when he competed unsuccessfully with Boris Johnson), is not interested. Maybe Boris Johnson? The recent prime minister still has many supporters who recall that he was the one who secured the party’s great victory in the December 2019 elections. As many as 63% of party members declare that they don’t mind Johnson returning to Downing Street.

However, they all have a serious rival in the form of someone who lives in the prime minister’s headquarters permanently, does not have to move out when the balance of power changes, enjoys popularity that no politician can dream of and who often reminds us that successive heads of government on Downing Street are only temporary. It’s Larry, the beloved cat of the British, employed as the official mouse-catcher in the office of the prime minister, the star of broadcasts prepared by TV crews in front of the PM’s office, and at the same time a talented commentator, appraising political events as they happen. Of course the First Cat commented on the departure of Liz Truss, minutes after the announcement of her resignation, declaring on Twitter that “King Charles III has asked him to become Prime Minister.”

Maybe it’s not the worst idea?

Larry, the cat of 10 Downing Street, yawns after Liz Truss’s announcement that she is resigning as PM, October 20, 2022. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images
– Teresa Stylińska

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and journalists

–Translated by Nicholas Siekierski
Main photo: October 20, 2022 in London: Liz Truss on Downing Street after her announcement that she is resigning as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. During her tenure, the pound sterling fell to its lowest level in history against the dollar. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
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