UK

Liz Truss turns to former Johnson adviser as she fights to shore up her premiership

Liz Truss has recruited a key member of Boris Johnson’s inner circle in a bid to shore up her tottering premiership following the collapse of her flagship economic policies.

Addressing MPs on the Brexiteer right of the Conservative Party on Tuesday evening, Ms Truss was accompanied by the former PM’s deputy chief of staff, combative election strategist David Canzini, who aides confirmed had started working with her earlier that day.

The meeting with the European Research Group (ERG) – at which Ms Truss said it had been “painful” to give up the tax-cutting policies that had been included in Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-Budget – came on the eve of Wednesday’s crucial session of Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons, at which Ms Truss hopes to shake off the impression that she is a passenger in a government now led by chancellor Jeremy Hunt.

But one Tory MP told The Independent that no amount of improvement on her previously wooden PMQs performances can save her now.

“It’s irrecoverable,” said the backbencher. “She’s toast; it’s just a matter of when the toaster pops. No-one expects her to be great at PMQs; if she’s good it might buy her a bit of time, but if she has a really bad time, that could be the end of her. If I was Keir Starmer, I’d go easy on her.”

Michael Gove told a private meeting that it was a matter of when, and not if, the prime minister was removed. “The question for any leader is what happens when the programme or the platform on which you secured the leadership has been shredded,” said the Tory big beast.

Mr Gove said that as education secretary he had once been Ms Truss’s boss, “a role which is now a jobshare between Jeremy Hunt and the bond markets”.

New polls painted a catastrophic picture of the prime minister’s standing in the country, just six weeks after she took office.

Two thirds (67 per cent) of those taking part in a snap survey by Savanta ComRes said Tory MPs should replace her as PM, against 21 per cent who said she should stay. And 75 per cent said she cannot regain the trust of the British public – up four points from last week.

The same poll found that 51 per cent of voters believe Mr Hunt is in charge of the government’s economic agenda, against 14 per cent who think Ms Truss is and 18 per cent who say they are offering joint leadership.

Meanwhile, YouGov found that 77 per cent of Britons disapprove of the Truss government – the highest figure in 11 years of polling on the issue – and 87 per cent say it is handling the economy badly. Labour enjoyed a 17-point lead on the question of which party was best able to run the economy.

Over half (55 per cent) of 530 Tory members questioned told the pollster Ms Truss should resign, and her overall satisfaction rating hit new depths of -70 per cent.

Meanwhile, Tory MPs warned that the prime minister and Mr Hunt will face rebellion if they try to scrap the triple lock protection that guarantees pensions will rise in line with earnings, inflation, or by 2.5 per cent, whichever is the highest.

Both the chancellor and No 10 have said that pensions are “on the table” as Mr Hunt looks for savings for his medium-term fiscal plan, to be published on 31 October.

Age UK said breaking the lock would be a “betrayal of our older population”, and the Unite union said it would be “obscene”, while the chief executive of the Centre for Ageing Better, Carole Easton, said it would show “a failing in compassion for many older people who are already living hand to mouth and having to make terrible decisions about whether to eat or heat”.

Lewes MP Maria Caulfield became the first Conservative MP to break ranks and declare she would not support the move, saying: “I will not be voting to end the pensions triple lock. Pensioners should not be paying the price for the cost-of-living crisis whether caused by the war in Ukraine or mini-Budgets.”

Nigel Mills, MP for Amber Valley in Derbyshire, told The Independent: “The idea you could give people on the state pension a rise of less than inflation is utterly ridiculous. What are they supposed to do? Go back to work 20 years after retiring? You could never get the legislation through parliament. It would be politically suicidal.”

Mr Mills said he was hopeful that the alarm over pensions was unfounded, and that Mr Hunt was simply refusing to commit to any item of expenditure in advance of the 31 October statement.

But comments made by Ms Truss to the right-wing group of MPs on Tuesday appeared to contradict this suggestion. The chair of the ERG, Mark Francois, said the prime minister had given an “unequivocal commitment” to increasing defence spending to 3 per cent of GDP by 2030.

Ms Truss received a supportive response from the Brexit-backing group, whose members welcomed her commitment to taking a “robust” stance in talks with the EU over Northern Ireland and to removing all EU legislation from the statute book by the end of 2023, said Mr Francois.

One former minister who was in the meeting told The Independent: “There’s a lot of support for her wish to deregulate and go to a lower-tax regime. No one in the ERG doubts her bona fides on these issues, it’s just that – as she has acknowledged herself – it was handled poorly.”

An aide said Ms Truss had expressed “disappointment” at being unable to push through her planned cuts to corporation tax and income tax, adding: “She said she found it painful and she did it because she had to.

“She said she is determined to move forward on delivering what she wants to deliver on supply-side reforms, and she remains committed to her low-tax, high-growth vision. Although the mission remains the same, she said it will be going slower than she wanted.”

The backbench 1922 Committee is due to meet on Wednesday after electing two new members to fill gaps on its executive.

But a member of the executive said there had been no discussion yet about changing the rule that protects Ms Truss from a leadership challenge for 12 months. The rule could be ditched if becomes clear to committee chair Sir Graham Brady that the desire to hold a confidence vote is “the sentiment of the party”, but this is not yet the case, said the MP.

Another Tory MP, a backer of Rishi Sunak, welcomed Mr Hunt’s reversal on economic policy – but said it had not secured Ms Truss’s position. “It’s probably made her position worse, because she’s in office but she’s not in power,” the MP told The Independent.

The backbencher said it was time for Mr Sunak and other leading contenders to replace Ms Truss to be “shut in a room” so that they could decide on a unity candidate.

“It’s a bit chicken and egg. None of them want to be seen to be making the first move. But a lot [of MPs] want to know what happens, and who replaces her, before they act and put something in writing to Sir Graham.”

But a Truss supporter said: “All this talk about a unity candidate is all very well, but you have to have unity first.”

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