Could Liz Truss become Norfolk's second PM?
- Credit: Olivier Douliery/Pool via AP
Liz Truss has emerged as a leading candidate to replace Boris Johnson if he is toppled by his party. CHRIS BISHOP assesses her prospects
Boris Johnson was keeping a low profile over the weekend amid the fall-out over so-called Partygate and the threat of a backbench rebellion over the government's Plan B restrictions.
Elsewhere, the woman tipped as his possible successor led our allies in a show of statesmanship and solidarity on the international stage.
Liz Truss, the MP for South West Norfolk, was hosting a meeting of G7 foreign ministers, organising the West's response to rising global tensions - and at the same time further burnishing her credentials as a potential replacement for the embattled prime minister.
This week, Mr Johnson faces a mutiny of more than 70 of his own MPs against new restrictions being brought in to stem the spread of the highly-infectious Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
The measures include making masks compulsory in most public indoor venues and the NHS Covid Pass, to be mandatory in nightclubs, concerts and other large gatherings.
In addition to the anger against the measures is the ongoing controversy surrounding allegations of parties being held at Downing Street last Christmas, at a time of Covid restrictions.
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An even bigger headache for the prime minister could lie in store if the Conservatives lose Thursday's North Shropshire by-election, forced by the resignation of Tory Owen Paterson for breaking lobbying rules, in what was yet another scandal that has dogged Downing Street of late.
The succession of crises and scandals has seen Mr Johnson's stock falling among many in his party, and his leadership style come under increasing fire.
Whether or not Westminster chatter of a leadership challenge comes to pass, there is certainly heightened speculation about which Tory MP might succeed Mr Johnson, with some pundits suggesting a change may come sooner rather than later.
And while her boss flounders, Ms Truss appears to be riding the crest of a wave.
At the G7 event, the foreign secretary delivered what was probably one of the performances of her political career as she rubbed shoulders with overseas counterparts discussing tensions on the border between Ukraine and Russia.
Ms Truss warned there would be "severe consequences" were Russia to invade Ukraine.
She went on: "We need to come together strongly to stand up to aggressors who are seeking to limit the bounds of freedom and democracy."
At a working dinner of allies from US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan in Liverpool, she outlined her vision of a global "network of liberty", based on the UK building closer economic, technological and security links with allies and drawing more countries "into the orbit" of free-market democracies.
Along with her rallying call for the world to support Ukraine and her new world vision, Ms Truss neatly side-stepped the row which has engulfed the government closer to home.
Asked about the scandal involving alleged government parties last year, she said she had been too busy getting foreign trade deals over the line to spend time partying last Christmas.
While pig farmers in her constituency might still worry about some of the finer print, those deals also seem to have sealed the deal when it comes to Ms Truss's popularity closer to home.
So far around 70 countries around the world have signed accords worth more than £74bn with post-Brexit Britain.
She might still have some big boxes - including a US trade deal - to tick. But Ms Truss has already emerged as the woman who packs her bags, gets on the plane and gets things done.
For the 12th straight month, a poll of Tory members recently named her their favourite minister. Her approval rating currently rides at +82.3, while the PM’s is -17.2. She is said to be attracting support from among the 2019 intake of Tory MPs - a vital constituency in the party.
As well as raising her profile and boosting her share price with fellow Tories, all those foreign trips and negotiations have enabled her to soar above criticism of the government's handling of the pandemic as a new variant rears its head.
Her focus has been on the issues which affect us globally, she said at the weekend.
While Omicron might not be fatal to most who become infected, it could well be for Boris Johnson's leadership.
With an election due in a little over two years' time, can the Conservatives afford to risk too much more of it?
Alongside Ms Truss, the pundits' other favourite is the chancellor, Rishi Sunak. But her recent whirl on the world stage and lack of collateral damage from parties and Plan B have left him on the runway while her career is in the ascendancy.
What happens next depends if - or more likely when - the required 15pc of MPs (54) send letters of no confidence in Mr Johnson to the chair of the influential 1922 Committee.
Visiting a school in her constituency on Friday before she set off for Liverpool Ms Truss spoke of her admiration for Britain's first female Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
While Boris Johnson's meltdown begins, she looks and sounds more and more like the Iron Lady.
Norfolk's second PM?
Were she to get her hands on the keys to Number 10, Liz Truss would be Norfolk's second prime minister.
Robert Walpole, of Houghton, was the first, serving for more than 20 years from April, 1721 – February, 1742.
He celebrated his election victories at the Dukes Head Hotel, in his King's Lynn constituency
Walpole's achievements include restoring government credit after the the South Sea Bubble financial crisis.
Ministers had agreed a £7m loan from the South Sea Company, in return or a trade monopoly with South America.
The company offered to underwrite the national debt of £30m. Shares in this and other schemes rocketed in price before the bubble burst, leaving people across the nation out of pocket.
Walpole put money aside to gradually pay down the nation's debt.