‘Undignified’ Tory leadership scrap put skids under Truss

Liz Truss shuts down calls for a general election

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Liz Truss’s Premiership has been blighted by the “undignified, self-indulgent” leadership contest in the summer, an influential MP has said. Tobias Ellwood believes the Conservatives have been hampered still further by the chaotic party conference earlier this month which he admitted was “a dog’s breakfast“.

However, the MP for Bournemouth East also believes the Prime Minister, who together with her Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, has been the target of fierce criticism in recent days, is now demonstrating “humility” and a willingness to listen.

Mr Kwarteng’s mini-budget on September 23 has been widely blamed for triggering a sharp dip in the value of the pound and a rise in interest rates.

He subsequently reversed a controversial decision to scrap the top 45p-in-the-pound rate of income tax and has brought forward his medium term fiscal statement, originally scheduled for November 23, to October 31.

Ms Truss, meanwhile, faced a grilling in the House of Commons on Wednesday, when she was challenged by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to confirm she would not be making cuts to public services.

Addressing the events of the last month, Mr Ellwood told Express.co.uk: “Clearly it didn’t go to plan, that’s obvious.

“But there’s now greater humility being illustrated by a determination to speak to colleagues, to be more inclusive.”

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“She needs to act on that to embrace the party and potentially roll back on some of the more controversial decisions that came out in that mini-budget.

“They had a plan, and you can’t fault Liz Truss for wanting to do something radical, given how slow our growth has been going back to the financial crisis of 2008.

“But ultimately, there’s a time and place to do these things and with other factors, international headwinds, particularly Ukraine, you have to choose your moment as to when you are able to to introduce these changes.

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“Reducing taxes is something that all Conservatives want to do, but it is about when you do it and how you do it, and the optics of it.”

Mr Ellwood currently sits as an independent, having had the Tory whip suspended by then-PM Boris Johnson after missing a crunch confidence vote in July – despite the fact that he had been unable to return from Moldova in time.

Regardless, as a prominent critic of Ms Truss’s predecessor, he suggested the Conservative Party needed to be more accommodating to dissenting voices.

He explained: “We have this fiscal statement coming out on October 31 and with that needs to be some other party reforms that include that make the parliamentary party feel more included so they can be part of the messaging rather than challenging the message.”

With Ms Truss also rumoured to be facing a growing Tory rebellion over her reluctance to guarantee benefits will rise in line with inflation, Mr Ellwood said: “This is something else which we need clarity on.

“Perhaps these debates all should have taken place during the summer.”

Referring to the slow-motion showdown which saw Ms Truss elected party leader on September 5, he explained: “I have to say, at the heart of this was a a false contest.

“All the candidates were appealing to a slice of the electorate that weren’t going to road test these ideas, to the extent that MPs were, because we have the general election in mind, rather than just who we want to be leader.

“And that I think, is the fault. I was pleased when William Hague said, ‘Let’s not go down this road again’.”

Mr Ellwood, who is still a member and who back Penny Mordaunt for leader, was in Warsaw and therefore missed the Tories’ annual gathering, held this year in Birmingham, and which he agreed had been a “something of a dog’s breakfast”.

He added: “It should be the MPs that are able to then really scrutinise the manifestos of those candidates so we would have teased out many of these ideas, and it would have helped shape what is the art of the possible rather than what we saw as party conference being used as the first opportunity, really to test and respond to many of the ideas.”

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