Liz Truss will have to appeal to three very different constituencies as Prime Minister. The first are Conservative members, a target audience that has become enthusiastic about tax cuts for both individuals and businesses, as well as cuts to Whitehall waste and a war on “wake up”.
Turning to the wider electorate, that message will have to change significantly, but between now and then there is another constituency that will be crucial: excited and skeptical Conservative MPs.
If she wins, Truss will enter Downing Street with the support of fewer MPs than her rival Rishi Sunak, though she has received high-profile support from ambitious ministers since it became clear she was the frontrunner.
There are deep divisions among Tory MPs over ‘Trussonomics’, plans to spend billions more, the risk of inflationary tax cuts and the cancellation of the national insurance surge that was destined to tackle the NHS’s backlog and eventually move to solving social care issues.
Few Tory MPs are against the principle of tax cuts; Boris Johnson lobbied hard to cut taxes, which are the highest in 70 years. That was ultimately the reason cited for Sunak’s split with the prime minister.
But there is also an influential wing of the party, including some of its newer MPs and those in fringe constituencies, that will have a hard time tolerating a prime minister who has announced plans to abolish corporate tax hikes, but not committing to immediate assistance with people’s fuel bills when they rise again by nearly £1,400.
Those red-wall MPs like Jacob Young and Ric Holden, as well as longer-serving MPs like Rob Halfon, who is one of the best at speaking out on behalf of working-class voters, are likely to start worrying in the fall. if Truss is unwilling to step in to help particularly the most vulnerable, either through universal credit or further council tax deductions.
There are also those in the One Nation wing of the party who are likely to be alarmed by the spending promises for tax cuts when all of the Treasury’s fiscal space may be wiped out. Those MPs are particularly concerned that Labor outperforms the Conservatives on the economy, an unmistakable signal amid the noise that the Tories may be jeopardizing their most important asset in a general election.
Truss could survive party divisions on the issue until next year, especially as the Conservatives are likely to get a healthy poll, which could startle Labor and give it some breathing room.
But the severity of this crisis and its predicted longevity means that fundamental divisions within the party are unlikely to be kept at bay for long. Silent doubts many in the party have about Truss’s vision and abilities, which caused so few to support her in the early stages of the leadership contest, could then grow louder.