The Home Secretary resigns. A Chancellor of the Exchequer has already quit. The Chief Whip tells colleagues that she is “no longer the Chief Whip”.
The Prime Minister chases her through the lobbies and is initially believed herself to have missed a vote that she decreed to be a matter of confidence. The Deputy Chief Whip says as he leaves the lobby: “I am f*cking furious and I don’t give a f*ck anymore.”
The Prime Minister’s chief media adviser is suspended pending an investigation. It has been officially briefed that the pensions triple lock is to be abandoned. The Prime Minister contradicts the briefing on the floor of the Commons.
She has told the European Research Group privately that European Court of Justice will have no jurisdiction in Northern Ireland. She fails to confirm it in the House.
She has already junked the main measures of the mini-Budget – including the pledge to cut Corporation Tax that was a flagship of her leadership campaign.
The background to the Home Secretary’s resignation, as I revealed yesterday afternoon on Twitter, was a blazing row with the Prime Minister over immigration policy.
The Prime Minister wants a more liberal migration policy in order to persuade the Office for Budget Responsibility to declare that the Government will meet its growth target.
The Home Secretary objects. She is able to point out that such liberalising change would be a breach of the Conservative manifesto.
All these policy confusions come as the Prime Minister loses control of her own Government in the wake of the mini-Budget collapse – having sacked her best political friend as Chancellor and replaced him with an ideological non-soulmate.
The markets are still restive. It may be too late even for a package of spending cuts and tax rises to soothe them. The polls show a 29 point Labour lead: Labour 52 per cent, Conservatives 23 per cent. This is wipeout territory.
And this morning, Tory MPs who were told that yesterday’s fracking vote was on a three line whip and then told that it wasn’t are now told that it was after all…
…And could thus be disciplined for breaking a whip that they believed no longer existed, after Downing Street itself made a mistake in communicating that change to the front bench.
Now, then. Were you a Conservative MP, I think you’d conclude that, to put it very mildly, the Party is in considerable electoral difficulty. And that the only possible solution is to get the polar opposite of Liz Truss into Downing Street asap.3
Someone who would signal a return to normality. Who warned precisely about what would happen if a Conservative Government tried to buck the market. Who would be an unmistakable symbol of change. Who is, as the saying goes, a grown up.
That person might not win the next election. Indeed, he would be unlikely to, as matters stand. But he might be credible enough to get the Party back to Westminster with 250 seats or so – maybe more.
Not a great total, sure. But enough to ensure that the Tories live to fight another day – and have a shot at keeping Labour down to a single term in office. Even that nugatory ambition will be denied if they go down to a 1997-style defeat or worse.
There is only one candidate for the job: Rishi Sunak. But I have to add, as a Sunak voter in the recent leadership election, that the move is potentially problematic, for three main reasons.
First, the Party collectively might well, given the current circumstances, accept the nomination of a single candidate by Tory MPs, thus obviating the constitutional requirement for a member ballot.
That’s one thing in principle. It might well be another were that candidate to be the man that Conservative activists rejected only a few weeks ago.
Nigel Farage, Richard Tice, Peter Cruddas the right-wing entertainment industry and parts of the Parliamentary Party would talk of a “constitutional coup” by “globalists”, “Treasury orthodoxy”, “the anti-growth coalition”, “Remoaners”.
The fortunes of the fringe right have slumped since the departure of David Cameron. It would be ironic were they to be boosted by the arrival in Downing Street of a man who, unlike Truss, actually voted for Brexit. But life is full of irony.
The second point follows from the first. Sunak might now be acceptable to a majority of Tory MPs. But a minority, based loosely around the ERG, can’t stand the sight of him.
We have reached the point, since the Conservative Party has got through three leaders in seven years and now looks like getting through a fourth, where it is only fair to ask if it is ungovernable and unleadable.
The three quarters of a century-long struggle within both the main parties over Europe has mirrored a wider debate among the British people.
During the run-up to the 1975 referendum, Labour was the more divided of two parties. During the build-up to the 2016 one, the Conservatives were instead.
The party that Boris Johnson left has united behind leaving the EU, but habits of revolt and rebellion have been hard to shift. In the age of social media and the WhatsApp Group, they have proved scarcely controllable.
So my second point duly leads to my third. Imagine you are Sunak, gazing at this apocalypse. You aren’t short of a penny or two. You have plenty of options.
If you become Conservative leader, the right-wing entertainment industry will fire every piece of ammunition at you that it can find, and then more.
The green card; non-dom tax – all the stuff that, together with your tax rises, has already damaged your brand. Why go through it – only to lead the Tories to likely defeat in 2024? For what?
Sunak could decide to have a go, and start by building bridges with his Right – for example, by asking Iain Duncan Smith to serve as his deputy. Risky, I know. But we are now in the risk business.
For it goes almost without saying that Truss is a one-woman Coalition of Chaos, and that the longer she is place, the more damage she will inflict on the Conservatives and the country.
But I have to confess that I am short of alternatives, as I gaze open-mouthed at “the natural party of government”. Perhaps you have ideas that might help.