British Prime Minister Liz Truss, just over a month into the job, is already seen as increasingly unlikely to ride out the turbulence within her own Conservative Party and the financial markets, with her former leadership rival Rishi Sunak the odds-on favourite to make a comeback for 10 Downing Street.
At the end of a tumultuous week in British politics which saw Truss sack her close friend and trusted aide Kwasi Kwarteng who was enforcing her own economic policies as Chancellor, the mutinous voices within the governing Conservatives continue to flag how Sunak had warned against much of the financial meltdown that would follow his rival’s unfunded tax-cutting policies.
The former British Indian Chancellor adopted a silent approach as he hosted two pre-scheduled parties at a central London hotel this week to thank his Ready for Rishi leadership campaign team and officials at the UK Treasury.
“His approach is one part ‘I told you so’ but rather more a sense of sadness. He just says: ‘It didn’t have to be like this’,” a friend was quoted by ‘The Sunday Times’ as saying.
As the Oddschecker bookies’ odds aggregator showed Sunak racing ahead as the favourite to replace Truss, his team is said to be eyeing what would be one of the most remarkable political comebacks in British politics.
According to insiders, the UK-born Indian-origin politician, who lost to Truss in the Tory membership vote after being the clear frontrunner among his parliamentary colleagues, is steering well clear of any accusations of plotting against Truss as he spends time in his constituency of Richmond in Yorkshire.
Among the possibilities being considered by Tory rebels is to avoid another full-blown leadership election by getting members of Parliament to unite behind one particular candidate.
Sunak is not seen as an all-out favourite for that because the fierce loyalists from former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s camp, who still blame his resignation as
Chancellor for their leader’s exit in the wake of the partygate scandal, are unlikely to rally behind him.
The proposal of a joint unity ticket involving Sunak and Penny Mordaunt, who came third in the shortlisting phase of the leadership contest and now serves as Leader of the House of Commons in the Truss Cabinet, has also been considered.
However, close aides on both sides indicate that neither would be willing to serve as the other’s junior. UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is considered a strong contender as the new unity candidate if Truss is convinced to step down. Meanwhile, the prospect of Johnson attempting his own possible comeback of sorts has not been ruled out.
On Sunday, the new Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, urged his party to unite behind Truss as "the last thing that people really want" is yet another change of leader.
"She's listened, she's changed, she's been willing to do that most difficult thing in politics which is to change tack," said Hunt, as he insisted Liz Truss is still the one in charge amid reports of him now the de facto leader overturning most of her tax-cutting plans.
"Taxes are not going to go down as quickly as people thought and some taxes are going to go up. So it's going to be very, very difficult and I think we have to be honest with people about that," he said.
Hunt, himself a former Tory leadership hopeful and a Sunak supporter, has ruled out vying for the top job again and said he was focussed on the "very big fiscal statement" for the end of this month when much of his predecessor's controversial mini-budget is set to be reversed.
(With PTI inputs)