Monday 3 October 2022 11:06 PM ANDREW PIERCE reports on late-night crisis meeting in Liz Truss's 22nd floor ... trends now

Monday 3 October 2022 11:06 PM ANDREW PIERCE reports on late-night crisis meeting in Liz Truss's 22nd floor ... trends now
Monday 3 October 2022 11:06 PM ANDREW PIERCE reports on late-night crisis meeting in Liz Truss's 22nd floor ... trends now

Monday 3 October 2022 11:06 PM ANDREW PIERCE reports on late-night crisis meeting in Liz Truss's 22nd floor ... trends now

Sunday night in the Malmaison Birmingham hotel, and Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng looked uncharacteristically subdued.

Hours earlier, he had shown the Prime Minister a draft of his speech for the following day, in which he intended to vow – in the teeth of furious opposition – to ‘stay the course’ on the Government’s controversial plans to axe the 45p top rate of income tax. 

Yet there were already signs that the policy might be doomed. 

Kwarteng had, in truth, been growing increasingly frustrated. In his mini-Budget just nine days earlier, he had frozen the country’s energy bills at a cost of perhaps £65billion, promised to reverse his predecessor Rishi Sunak’s hated hike to national insurance and even to cut a penny off the basic rate of income tax. Each of these would help ordinary people, not millionaires. 

And yet all the media and Opposition could talk about was the decision to abolish the 45p rate for those earning £150,000 and above. The policy might cost perhaps £2billion – and could, he reasoned, conceivably pay for itself. It was a sideshow – but a political nuclear warhead. 

MP Grant Shapps  called the 45p scheme ‘an unforced error that is harming the Government’s economic credibility’

MP Grant Shapps  called the 45p scheme ‘an unforced error that is harming the Government’s economic credibility’

At dinner at the Malmaison – held in the shadow of Birmingham’s International Convention Centre, the venue for this year’s Tory party conference – Kwarteng was still publicly toeing the party line. He defended the cut with customary ebullience – but this could have been mere bravado. 

I have learnt that, shortly before the dinner, ex-minister Grant Shapps – an old friend of Kwarteng’s and an increasingly noisy critic of the tax-cut – had shown the Chancellor a spreadsheet on his mobile phone. 

Shapps, a self-confessed political geek, had mapped out Tory MPs’ voting intentions – and the numbers looked grim. 

Dozens of backbenchers were resolutely against the policy, planning either to rebel by voting with the Opposition or abstaining altogether. 

Casually, between sips of fizzy water instead of his usual white wine, Kwarteng told his fellow diners that the vote on the mini-Budget would now be held after November 23 – the date of his planned ‘financial statement’ outlining how he intended to pay for all his generous tax-cutting. (Today, there appeared to be another U-turn with news the mini Budget may be brought forward to this month.) 

Shapps himself – who called the scheme ‘an unforced error that is harming the Government’s economic credibility’

Shapps himself – who called the scheme ‘an unforced error that is harming the Government’s economic credibility’

A number of senior Tories had spent Sunday lambasting the 45p cut, in what amounted to a gift to Labour. As well as Shapps himself – who called the scheme ‘an unforced error that is harming the Government’s economic credibility’ – serial backstabber Michael Gove had been scathing. 

On Laura Kuenssberg’s political show on BBC One that morning, Gove said the cut had ‘the wrong values’ and added devastatingly that it was ‘not Conservative’. 

The Prime Minister, too, had for days been defending the policy to the hilt – including on Miss Kuenssberg’s show. ‘I stand by the package we announced,’ said Miss Truss.

However, in comments that dismayed her own party, the PM also admitted that the 45p cut had not been agreed in advance by the Cabinet, adding for good measure that it was the ‘Chancellor’s policy’. 

Tory MPs were appalled that Truss appeared to be blaming Kwarteng for the unpopular policy. Ex-Cabinet minister Nadine Dorries accused her of ‘throwing the Chancellor under a bus’. (Friends of Miss Truss insisted to me that ‘she was just answering directly’.) 

On Laura Kuenssberg’s political show on BBC One that morning, Gove (left) said the cut had ‘the wrong values’ and added devastatingly that it was ‘not Conservative’

On Laura Kuenssberg’s political show on BBC One that morning, Gove (left) said the cut had ‘the wrong values’ and added devastatingly that it was ‘not Conservative’

Only minutes after the Kuenssberg interview ended, an ashen-faced Cabinet minister told me: ‘This measure won’t get through the Commons – too many MPs will vote against it. If we back it, we will be given a terrible time in our constituencies and on social media. It has to go.’ 

Shapps himself – who called the scheme ‘an unforced error that is harming the Government’s economic credibility’, saying: ‘I have been called away on urgent government business.’ He had, I have established, been summoned by the Prime Minister. 

As the day wore on, the chaos persisted – and perhaps Miss Truss began to realise that the lady might be

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