Few institutions in British political life have seemed more indestructible than the Conservative Party. When at their strongest, the Tories have often seemed to be an unstoppable electoral juggernaut. Even in periods of weakness, there remained enough of a base among loyal parliamentary constituencies to incubate new policy agendas in preparation for a return to power.
These previous comebacks still give some Tory MPs hope in the wake of Prime Minister Liz Truss’ chaotic first month in office. After the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Truss’ first two weeks in power were overshadowed by the mourning period for a monarch whose reign had seemed endless. Yet Truss’ position went from difficult to disastrous after she announced a wide range of unfunded tax cuts that immediately caused a sell-off of British assets in bond and currency markets over concerns of the sustainability of the country’s public finances.
Truss has already backpedaled on some of her proposed tax cuts, particularly those for the extremely wealthy. But the ensuing turmoil on financial markets has led to rising interest rates and increasingly expensive mortgages, potentially for hundreds of thousands of British households. That has shattered what remained of the Conservative Party’s reputation for economic competence and given the opposition Labour Party huge leads in opinion polls. As infighting between Truss’ supporters and those MPs who backed her rivals in the leadership contest escalates behind the scenes at this week’s Conservative Party conference, Truss and her advisers are in desperate search of something, anything, that might revive the party’s fortunes.