Liz Truss's final hours cap her failure in politics

'The National' witnessed first hand as events unravelled from Westminster to Downing Street

Liz Truss making her resignation speech outside Number 10 Downing Street, setting the record for the shortest ever serving British prime minister after 44 days in office. AP
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All political careers end in failure, the saying goes, but this was a tenure that ended so disastrously it will trump many to come.

Thursday was a day of an extraordinary collapse not witnessed before in British political history as Liz Truss's calamitous premiership ended, and The National was close at hand.

The fallout from the night before, when Conservatives had been jostled by fellow MPs at a Commons vote on fracking, was still evident as Sir Charles Walker calmly chatted to colleagues.

Twelve hours earlier the liked and respected MP had appeared on television furious at a fracas that “reflects really badly on the government of the day”.

That interview went viral on social media and probably nagged at Liz Truss’s mind and many others overnight.

After weeks of political and economic catastrophe following the ill-advised mini-budget of unfunded tax cuts to stimulate growth, her support was ebbing steadily as more MPs called for her to go.

Shortly after 8am, Anne Marie Trevelyan, a leading supporter and Cabinet minister, declined multiple times to tell the BBC that she thought Ms Truss would lead the Tories into the next election.

It still appeared possible that Ms Truss could stabilise the situation, with her new Chancellor Jeremy Hunt steadying the markets by reversing nearly all her tax-cutting measures, although the enforced resignation of her Home Secretary Suella Braverman was still causing tremors.

Thursday, it seemed, could see either a lull after the storm or something much more dramatic.

At the 1130am briefing for Westminster Lobby journalists at No 9 Downing Street, The National was among those who first heard the Prime Minister’s official spokesman state that Ms Truss had cleared her diary and was working all day next door at Number 10.

That was unusual, but perhaps she was trying to push through the day without further calamity.

Did she have any plans to meet Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee that settles internal issues, a reporter asked.

“No,” the spokesman replied. About 10 minutes later various tweets told journalists that Sir Graham had just entered Number 10 via the back door.

Chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservatives Sir Graham Brady makes a statement outside the Houses of Parliament. PA

The spokesman got word at the same time. Instantly it became clear that all was not well. While Sir Graham’s meeting may have been to express MPs’ disquiet over Wednesday night’s vote, it may also have been to tell Ms Truss that she no longer enjoyed enough support.

The lobby briefing ended shortly after midday and The National decided to wait outside Number 10 to see if Sir Graham would reveal what had been discussed.

The minutes passed, until at 12.48pm a black Jaguar swept through the tall gates guarding Downing Street and halted sharply outside No 10. In a blur, Jake Berry, the Conservative Party chairman, rushed from the car into the building.

The odds for a resignation were beginning to narrow. The chairman was either there to tell her lots of party donors were worried or to discuss as steady a transition of power via a swift leadership vote.

The street began filling with both national and international reporters. Already the US's CBS was in place alongside Channel 7 from Australia. The words “chaos” and “Britain” were frequently repeated. Others from Japan, France and Germany dashed up the 100-metre long road lugging their heavy equipment.

But still there was no word from Downing Street until the modernist-carved wooden lectern carrying the British prime minister’s seal was wheeled on to the road at 1.22pm.

“The lectern of doom has appeared,” said a British political broadcaster. It meant only one thing: resignation.

The last panting journalists arrived as Number 10’s black door opened eleven minutes later and Ms Truss, accompanied by her husband Hugh O’Leary, walked confidently to the lectern and resigned.

A little over 100 days earlier The National had watched Boris Johnson grudgingly offer his termination after 60 members of his government had resigned after a series of scandals.

That was after eight months of increasingly grim revelations, whereas Ms Truss lasted only 44 days.

The first half of her tenure had been dignified and sensible, contending with Queen Elizabeth II’s death and funeral. Then on September 23 she detonated her premiership with the disastrous mini-budget of unfunded tax cuts — made against many warnings — and from that she never recovered.

That particular turmoil ended one minute into her 90-second resignation speech as Ms Truss said she no longer had a “mandate” to continue as leader.

The next prime minister will be known in just over a week. That person is most likely to be Rishi Sunak or Penny Mordaunt after the new Chancellor Jeremy Hunt ruled himself out.

As farfetched as it may be, a third candidate could emerge — the only one who has a “mandate” from among the population to govern for the next two years.

Boris Johnson, currently holidaying in the Caribbean, is said to have signalled his intent to stand for election. Mr Johnson is still beloved among the 166,000 Tory members, something his rivals and MPs know only too well.

British politics lives in extraordinary times. Rule nothing out.

Updated: October 21, 2022, 8:14 AM
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