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UK PM faces fresh political woes after difficult MPs meeting

By AFP - Oct 13,2022 - Last updated at Oct 13,2022

LONDON — Embattled British Prime Minister Liz Truss faced fresh woes on Thursday after a prominent Conservative Party insider said some of her own MPs were considering a push to replace her with two former rivals.

"All sorts of different people are talking about all sorts of different things because the Conservative backbenchers are casting around for a possible replacement for [finance minister] Kwasi Kwarteng, even for a possible replacement for Liz Truss," Paul Goodman told the BBC.

Goodman, a former Tory MP who is editor of the influential ConservativeHome blog, said that less than 40 days into her premiership "all sorts of names are being thrown about" to replace the beleaguered leader.

MPs have been alarmed by a YouGov poll two weeks ago that gave the main opposition Labour Party of KeirStarmer a huge overall lead of 33 points.

The poll came after the government's controversial September 23 mini-budget that spooked the financial markets, heaping further pressure on cash-strapped households battling a cost-of-living crisis.

The lead is the biggest the Labour Party has recorded in any published poll since the late 1990s heyday of former leader Tony Blair.

Goodman said that the names being talked about included former finance minister Rishi Sunak — who stood against Truss for the leadership of the Tory party — and "even Boris Johnson", whom she replaced as premier and party leader early last month.

"One idea doing the rounds is that Penny Mordaunt and Rishi Sunak, who, after all, between them got pretty much two-thirds of the votes of MPs [in the leadership contest], come to some kind of arrangement and essentially take over."

Mordaunt, a former defence minister, also stood against Truss, and is currently a member of her government.

Truss has enjoyed the shortest honeymoon period of any British political leader in living memory, so much so that The Economist this week said she had "the shelf-life of a lettuce".

On Wednesday, she appeared in parliament for the first time since the contentious mini-budget and told MPs she was "absolutely" committed to maintain current spending.

But with currency, bond and other markets spooked by the extra borrowing earmarked to pay for the mini-budget's tax cuts, fears have grown that she will slash government department budgets, returning to the unpopular austerity policy of a decade ago.

The respected Institute for Fiscal Studies on Tuesday said the government would have to cut spending by more than £60 billion ($67 billion) just to stabilise debt levels by mid-2027.

Goodman said there were increasing doubts whether they could find the savings required, and if they do, whether they would calm the markets or cause further turmoil.

A small number of individual MPs had in recent days demanded government U-turns on Truss's tax cutting policies, he added.

"I don't really know if they're a majority or not, but if I'm right then we will see the government have great difficulty in getting this package of cuts together."

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Thursday, however, insisted the government should "absolutely stick" with Kwarteng's mini-budget to help drive economic growth.

"I think changing the leadership would be a disastrously bad idea politically and also economically," he told BBC radio.

Cleverly was speaking a day after a difficult meeting between Truss and members of her party.

MP Robert Halton told Truss at the meeting she had "trashed the last 10 years of workers' Conservatism", referring to initiatives such as apprenticeships, the left-leaning Guardian daily reported.

After the behind-closed-doors meeting, one MP told the paper the atmosphere had been "funereal".

Another was quoted as saying she had "done absolutely nothing to reassure colleagues whatsoever".

Truss is the Conservative Party's fourth leader in seven years.

Johnson was forced to quit in July after dozens of resignations from his government in protest at a series of scandals.

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