Liz Truss has been forced to guarantee a 10 per cent rise in the state pension after a backlash from Conservative MPs and Tory-supporting newspapers against the idea of scrapping the so-called “triple lock”.
The UK prime minister held emergency talks with Jeremy Hunt, her new chancellor, on Wednesday and insisted the government must stick to the triple lock, which ensures that pension payments rise in line with inflation, average earnings or by 2.5 per cent each year, whichever is higher.
On Monday Hunt tried to keep open the option of below-inflation rises in pensions from next April as he tries to fill a £40bn fiscal hole before his October 31 Budget. The UK inflation rate rose to 10.1 per cent in September.
Downing Street on Tuesday also confirmed the triple lock was no longer guaranteed, sparking criticism from a number of Tory MPs and hostile headlines in the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and Daily Express.
But in a sign of how Truss is being forced to govern from hour-to-hour, on Wednesday morning she told Hunt the triple lock must stay in place and announced the decision to MPs at prime minister’s questions.
“We have been clear in our manifesto we will maintain the triple lock,” she said. “I’m committed to it and so is the chancellor.”
Hunt, who was sitting next to Truss, has now had a big potential source of savings put off limits, although the government has not guaranteed that other benefits will be uprated in line with inflation.
Truss’s problems are growing on a daily basis as she struggles to retain any grip on her party while Hunt sets about ripping up her entire economic strategy.
She was mocked by Sir Keir Starmer, Labour leader, at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday. “How can she be held to account when she’s not in charge?” he asked. “What is the point of a prime minister whose promises don’t last a week?”
But Truss survived the ordeal with some cheers from Tory MPs, many of whom believe she must stay in Number 10 until Hunt has delivered what he has called his “eye wateringly difficult” Halloween Budget.
“I’m a fighter not a quitter,” Truss said, recalling a famous line from Lord Peter Mandelson. She also apologised for her handling of the economy: “I’ve been clear that I’m sorry and that I’ve made mistakes.”
Another challenge facing the prime minister is an attempt by Labour to exploit Tory divisions over the resumption of shale gas extraction.
Labour will force a vote at 7pm on Wednesday, which would give it control over the House of Commons order paper and allow it to bring forward legislation to ban fracking.
Tory MPs were told there was a “hard three-line whip” to vote against the Labour motion. But several MPs with shale gas in their constituencies have spoken out against fracking, including Hunt, MP for South West Surrey, and Ben Wallace, defence secretary, who represents a Lancashire seat.
Truss hopes to defuse the rebellion by promising Tory MPs a “consultation on a consultation” — a review to establish the mechanism by which a local community can give its “consent” to fracking. Truss said shale gas extraction would only take place with community support.
In a further sign of disarray in Number 10, Truss has suspended a key aide, Jason Stein, over allegations that he delivered hostile briefings against Tory critics of the prime minister.
Stein, a trusted special adviser, is to face a formal investigation by Whitehall’s propriety and ethics team, although Truss’s team said that he had not offered to resign.
A spokesman for Truss said: “The PM has made it clear to her team that some of the briefings we have seen about parliamentary colleagues are completely unacceptable and must stop.”
Sajid Javid, former chancellor, believed Stein had briefed the Sunday Times that Truss regarded him as “shit”. Javid has told colleagues he asked Truss to sack Stein, but she refused. Stein declined to comment.