Liz Truss gets down to business, but how much support does she really have, even among Tory MPs? – Ian Swanson
Liz Truss's first two weeks as Prime Minister must be the oddest start to a premiership ever seen.
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But just 48 hours later the Queen was dead and Ms Truss found herself having to pay tribute to this longest-reigning sovereign’s life of service dating back 70 years to Winston Churchill’s time in power.
The Queen’s death and the subsequent events of mourning, culminating in yesterday’s state funeral, inevitably threw Ms Truss’s plans into disarray. She had enough time to appoint her Cabinet, announce a two-year energy price freeze and take the dispatch box for her first Prime Minister’s Questions.
But then all public politicking had to stop and make way for ceremonial demands, a meeting with the new King Charles III and attendance at cathedral services in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff. Pundits had said there would be no time for a honeymoon for the new prime minister, but there has been a hold-up.
Now with the funeral over, Ms Truss can get down to business, making her debut as premier on the world stage by attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
And there will be important domestic business this week too. When she announced the energy price freeze for consumers, Ms Truss promised help for businesses too, but there were no details and business leaders have been pressing for more information on what will be available. The new Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg will set out the support tomorrow. Health Secretary Therese Coffey will announce her plans for the heath service on Thursday.
And then on Friday, new Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng will deliver a mini-budget, which could include some of £30 billion tax cuts which were Ms Truss’s key pledge during the Tory leadership contest – the tax cuts which her rival Rishi Sunak branded “dangerous” and warned would plunge the economy into an “inflation spiral”.
There is a sizeable Tory majority in the House of Commons, which means Ms Truss will get her measures through, but she is nevertheless likely to face serious opposition from within her own ranks. Less than half the Conservative MPs wanted her as leader.
And she has filled her Cabinet with her own friends and allies, rather than seeking talent from across the party and trying to heal the divide which became all too apparent during an often bitter party leadership contest. That means some influential figures at large on the backbenches with bones to pick and possibly with grudges to settle.
Ms Truss is open to the jibe that she is governing without her own mandate, having been selected effectively by the Tory membership, but she cannot afford to call a general election to secure public endorsement because the polls show she would lose to Labour.
A YouGov poll found only 14 per cent of people expect her to be a better Prime Minister than Boris Johnson.
So she will have to make the best of what she has. The first two weeks of her premiership have been odd, but the next period may be strange too: a new Prime Minister with a comfortable majority and bold promises but struggling all the same.