With Parliament returning this week, the Prime Minister will meet groups of colleagues as she faces a growing rebellion over benefits.
10 October 2022
Liz Truss is set to launch a charm offensive to bridge the divides blighting the Tory party as she faces mounting pressure to raise benefits in line with inflation.
As MPs file back into Westminster this week, the Prime Minister is expected to hold policy lunches with groups of colleagues and address the 1922 Committee of backbenchers on Wednesday.
Her signal that she is in listening mode comes as she bids to stabilise her premiership following the fallout from last month’s seismic mini-budget, the ensuing U-turn on tax, a slump in the polls and last week’s chaotic conference – at which her economic plans came under attack.
A major flashpoint is over benefits, with former chancellor Sajid Javid adding his voice to growing opposition to proposals to increase payments by less than inflation.
Mr Javid told BBC Radio 4’s Today on Monday: “People are going through incredibly challenging times. We can all see that in our community. So I personally believe that benefits must stay in line with inflation.”
Baroness Philippa Stroud, Tory peer and chief executive of the Legatum Institute, told the programme benefit payments must go up in line with inflation rather than earnings as “you don’t build growth on the back of the poor”.
No decision has been reached yet, Government minister Victoria Prentis stressed.
“There isn’t a government position yet and indeed there can’t be,” she said, adding that Work and Pensions Secretary Chloe Smith must first consider average wage figures released on Tuesday and inflation figures on October 19.
“She can’t do anything until those figures have come and she will then consider how to, if at all, uprate benefits and what figure to choose. She has a very wide discretion to do that. We make a decision and we communicate it usually by the end of November,” Ms Prentis told Sky News.
“It’s obviously a really worrying time for people on benefits because they know that inflation is rising, and they want us to make this decision as soon as we possibly can so that they have the security of knowing how their benefits will be next year.”
The work and pensions minister said the Conservative Party should “focus a bit less on internal squabbling and a bit more on helping the country through some really difficult times”.
In a move seen as a peace offering to critics who have accused Ms Truss of surrounding herself with allies, the Prime Minister handed a Government job to Greg Hands, who backed her rival Rishi Sunak in the Conservative leadership race.
The seasoned minister replaces Conor Burns, who was sacked from his post in the Department for International Trade (DIT) on Friday following a misconduct complaint.
Mr Burns has vowed to clear his name and said he will “fully co-operate” with a Tory probe into claims of inappropriate behaviour.
Mr Hands’ appointment was notably welcomed by fellow Mr Sunak supporter Grant Shapps, who was rumoured to be monitoring party unrest behind the scenes.
“No one is more experienced and knowledgeable than @GregHands on trade,” he tweeted.
“A welcome addition back to @trussliz government.”
A Government source said: “Greg was one of Rishi’s most high-profile backers.
“This is a very clear signal from the PM that she wants to unify the party and bring everyone back together.”
Mr Hands has extensive experience in the DIT, having held the minister of state post twice before Sunday’s appointment.
Mr Hands, who most recently served in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and has also been chief secretary to the Treasury, said it is “an honour and a great privilege” to be part of the Government.
“Thanks Prime Minister @trussliz for the confidence – and looking forward to being back at @tradegovuk,” he wrote on Twitter.
Parliament returns on Tuesday for the first sustained period since the Queen’s death last month.
Ms Truss had been in office for two days when the announcement from Buckingham Palace triggered a political pause until after the state funeral, with MPs only briefly returning to the Commons three weeks ago before rising again for the conference recess.
After Conservative critics forced her mid-conference climb-down on slashing income tax for the highest earners, Cabinet ministers have called on the party to come together or risk handing the keys to No 10 to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.
Tensions were still running high ahead of Mr Hands’ appointment on Sunday as a senior Tory MP warned the mood in the party was “febrile”, with many backbenchers, and indeed members of the Government, “very concerned at where we are in the polls”.
Nadhim Zahawi, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, sought to quell disquiet in Tory ranks on Sunday as he warned: “Delay is our biggest enemy.”
He said colleagues must “focus” on delivering for the country, as any “dither” will “end in defeat” for the party.
A No 10 source said the “cold, hard reality” is the Tories must “get behind Liz” or wind up with a “monstrous coalition of Labour and the SNP”.