Katherine Seymour/ Head of Politics
Since his so-called ‘coronation’ as Conservative party leader, Rishi Sunak has faced the unprecedented circumstance of not one, but three former Prime Ministers from his own party sitting on his backbenches. Those being Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, the latter two seemingly convinced that unfair coups caused their departures. Liz Truss’ Op-ed at the weekend shows that she doesn’t want to go quietly as it may have previously seemed.
The UK has gained two former Prime Ministers in the last year – meaning that there are now three former Prime Ministers sitting on the Conservative backbenches. In the past, during the early days of Thatcher’s premiership for instance, there have been former Prime Ministers sitting with the Opposition, but not as often from the same party. Truss and Johnson seem destructive to Sunak’s aims to make the Conservative Party electable again as people have increasingly lost trust in the Conservative Party. This is demonstrated by the recent opinion polls which put Labour in the lead across the board. On the basis of integrity, Johnson was seen to have increased public distrust in the party. However, it is thought that Truss has inflicted more damage on long-term economic trust – something which the Tories have always been regarded more responsible of than Labour throughout recent political history.
While him speaking on his post-premiership hobby of mastering the art of drawing a cow isn’t an indication of a comeback tour, there are many in the Conservative party who still hope to see Boris Johnson back in office.
Boris Johnson has been much more subtle in his interventions in political life. His close allies, Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg, are mouthpieces for his political message as unwavering supporters. He had appeared on Nadine Dorries’ first episode of her interview show, Friday Night with Nadine, on the 3rd of February. The show was controversial even before it was broadcast. Many questioned why Dorries, a sitting MP, was given a regular TV slot on Talk TV as a broadcaster subject to impartiality requirements. Furthermore, many asked why Dorries, supposed to be acting in a journalistic capacity, was interviewing somebody whom she was very close with – and therefore would render her unlikely to make insightful scrutiny during her interview with the former PM. For example, there were many leading questions (which many saw as being there to absolve Johnson of any wrongdoing) including: “Do you think, looking back, that you were too focused on saving lives, do you regret that you didn’t spend your time prowling the corridors of Downing Street, checking that no one was having a party?”. It is clear to see that this question was strategically designed to make allegations about parties happening in Downing Street seem obsolete against his ‘commitment’ to saving lives. While him speaking on his post-premiership hobby of mastering the art of drawing a cow isn’t an indication of a comeback tour, there are many in the Conservative party who still hope to see Boris Johnson back in office.
Liz Truss was much more radical in launching her political comeback with an Op-Ed written on the 5th February in the Sunday Telegraph, a newspaper more historically aligned with Conservative policies and viewpoints. In the piece, she was unapologetic for her 45 days in office and blamed a “powerful economic establishment” and a lack of support from within the Conservative party for her downfall, she argued that she expected that her mandate from party members would have been more accepted among her colleagues. She also defended her economic plans, arguing that the bad press on the mini budget originated from treasury orthodoxy and arguments against the Prime Minister not having taken an OBR report on the announcement. She pointed out support for her mini-budget from business saying that “Tony Danker, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), hailed it as “a turning point for our economy” and “day one of a new UK growth approach”, recognising that “a simpler, smarter approach to tax can pay dividends”. While she emphasised the support she received,ultimately her plan did result in a crashing British pound and thus economy. Whether or not she believed that her plans would save the economy in the long term, all indications were that there would be no economy left to save should the plan have remained in place. She did defend the potential crash in pension funds stating: “At no point during any of the preparations for the mini-Budget had any concerns about liability-driven investments (LDIs) and the risk they posed to bond markets been mentioned at all to me, the chancellor or any of our teams by officials at the Treasury.”
Truss did seem somewhat regretful of the way she acted in office in her piece reciting: “Knowing what I know now, undoubtedly I would have handled things differently.”
Truss did seem somewhat regretful of the way she acted in office in her piece reciting: “Knowing what I know now, undoubtedly I would have handled things differently. I underestimated the extent to which the market was on edge and, like many others, was not aware of how fragile our system had become.”. Through this, however, she recognised that she did not have all of the information available to her, appearing to put the blame on advisors again. She also did an interview with SpectatorTV as part of her media ‘comeback tour’ and displayed a similar sentiment in her answers.
The Prime Minister’s Questions on the 8th of February following the op-ed was mostly overshadowed by President Zelensky’s presence in the UK. However, Westminster leader of the SNP Stephen Flynn asked Sunak whether he would apologise to the country on behalf of the former Prime Minister and Conservative party after Truss’ Spectator interview – in which she suggested that she wasn’t apologetic for her time in office. In his response, the Prime Minister pointed to the “important work” which his government was conducting across the UK, including Scotland.
Theresa May, as a former Prime Minister, has been much less inflammatory to her party. Many view her as an elder statesman type of figure. She has continued her job as a constituency MP and has apparently helped her successors, providing criticism and advice as witnessed in her parliamentary contributions. As a Former Prime Minister in parliament she has been much less bitter, likely because she could not deliver Brexit and wanted to end the stalemate in her resignation. It is probable that she accepted her fate in resigning more easily than Truss and Johnson have done. After all, these two are evidently upset over the party orthodoxy, both blaming it for forcing them out of office.
Sunak is not safe from taking the heat for his predecessors as they continue to speak out on their times in office. Both Truss and Johnson feel as if their end came prematurely and unfairly.
PMQs has demonstrated over time that Sunak is not safe from taking the heat for his predecessors as they continue to speak out on their times in office. Both Truss and Johnson feel as if their end came prematurely and unfairly. Furthermore, the issue of several short-serving Prime Ministers since 2016 has arguably created a culture in which there are many bitter former Prime Ministers, along with their staunch parliamentary allies, seeking a return to the political fold.