The Tories face a potential wipeout at the next general election after Liz Truss’s experimental economic plan has “blown up”, former Tory chancellor George Osborne has warned.
The prime minister will attempt to win over aghast Tory MPs at a series of “charm offensive” meetings this week, with Labour enjoying leads of more than 20 points in the polls.
“The political experiment has blown up the chemistry lab,” Mr Osborne said on the shocked state of the party. “Everyone is standing there in the wreckage of the political situation for the Conservatives.”
He told Channel 4’s The Andrew Neil Show: “[It is] markedly worse than it was several months ago, in terms of the opinion poll, the likelihood of a Labour victory, the likelihood of a Tory wipeout at a general election.”
Mr Obsorne said: “Those things were not really on the cards on the day Liz Truss became prime minister,” adding: “I think a Tory wipeout is potentially on the cards. But we’ve got two years to run.”
On Sunday the ex-culture secretary Nadine Dorries warned of a “complete wipeout” if there is an early general election – and also said Boris Johnson’s return to No 10 could not be ruled out.
Ms Truss is expected to go before MPs at a meeting of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers on Wednesday, as well as meeting different groupings of MPs this week. She is also set to turn up at the Tory team room more often to listen to their views.
The PM is reportedly considering another U-turn on the idea of increasing benefits payments by less than inflation, with many backbenchers irate at the prospect of a real-terms cut.
Ms Truss is reportedly “genuinely undecided” on the issue but will be “listening to Cabinet and colleagues”, a Downing Street source told The Telegraph.
Work and pensions minister Victoria Prentis said no decision had been made on benefits – suggesting that it may not come until November – insisting that the Tory party should move on from “internal squabbling”.
Ms Trusss handed a government job to Greg Hands – who backed her rival Rishi Sunak in the leadership race – in a move that will be widely seen as a peace offering to critics who have accused her of surrounding herself with allies.
Mr Hands replaces Conor Burns, sacked as trade minister 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.
Tensions were still running high ahead of the appointment on Sunday, as a senior Tory MP warned the mood in the party was “febrile”, with many backbenchers, “very concerned at where we are in the polls”.
Ms Truss will hand to try to smooth over rows with Michael Gove, who successfully pushed for a U-turn on the plan to axe the 45p rate of tax for the wealthiest.
One ally of the PM told the Sunday Times there was “something deeply troubling about the darkness inside [Gove]. It grips him and it takes over.”
One Tory told Politico the comment was “outrageous” and asked whether Tory MPs could feel they could speak their mind with the PM “without it later being weaponized against them”.
Former chancellor Alistair Darling described the current situation as “chaotic” and said the Government is giving “a textbook example of everything you shouldn’t do in difficult times”.