Get (Britain) The Tories Moving ?
The same cannot be said for MPs, with many cutting their trips short or not attending at all. During my walk about conference yesterday, one MP said to me that they are “just going to sit back and watch the chaos unravel”. Another MP said something unprintable, but roughly translates to “the Conference is not going well”. There is not much more that needs to be said but that nicely summarises the mood within the Parliamentary Party at this conference.
One of the points of hope and optimism with this new leadership was that the days of the Government jumping from crisis to crisis, and the almost daily policy changes and u-turns, were behind us. This week’s debacle over the 45p rate of tax and the subsequent u-turn goes to show that it is business as usual on that front.
The damage goes further than public confidence though, as Ministers and MPs went out in front of the media and their constituents to justify a policy that Government whips knew they did not have the votes for. This u-turn has simultaneously done nothing to convince Truss sceptics that she is the person to lead the Conservatives in the next election, whilst also angering her loyalists. The breakdown in the whipping operation was one of the strands that lead to the Boris Johnson’s downfall and at this stage it looks as though the Government whipping operations is falling down before it has even got started.
MPs in Birmingham are noticeably worried. The national polling was very bad for the Conservatives as they went into Conference, but the question was always regarding where Labour could win seats from the Conservatives. The Conservative rural base is almost considered a unbreakable but recent polling from YouGov has even the safest of Conservatives seats a little nervous. Earlier in the summer, Labour were not doing much to challenge the Conservatives in the poll and in rural communities voting intention was around 43% for Conservatives with Labour on 24%. This week that has almost swapped with Labour on 41% and the Conservatives on 28%. This has gone to show that the national decline has now been reflected in rural communities and the traditional heartlands of Conservatives and so for the first time we have seen where Labour can practically win seats from the Conservatives.
So what now for Truss? She will hope to regain a measure of control with her big keynote speech tomorrow. However, even the Prime Minister’s most generous supporters would probably agree that this Conference has not been the kick off to her premiership that she would have hoped for. While the next election is still a few years off, there are big question marks over whether she will be the one to lead the Conservatives into it. MPs are already starting to talk about her being replaced and unless the Government are able to indeed Get Britain Moving, this is a very difficult place for them to come back from.