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Alastair Campbell’s Diary: If I was a bookie, these would be my odds for next PM’s portrait on the Downing Street wall

The Tories could unite to topple Truss. However, they are so divided at the moment that it may not be possible

Image: The New European

Turn left out of the Cabinet Room, head up the first staircase on your right, and as you climb the stairs you will see the portraits of ex-prime ministers arranged neatly alongside each other.

I did that climb many times when I worked in Downing Street, and I developed a little ritual as I did so… I ran the first flight, slowed down on the turn, then as I headed up the second flight, I nodded respectfully to Churchill, said “Hi Clem” to Attlee, a similar “Hi Harold,” and “Hi Jim” to the two other post-war pre-Blair Labour prime ministers, Wilson and Callaghan, then narrowed my eyes for a stern grimace at Mrs Thatcher and John Major, whose photo was the last before you reached the landing leading to the State rooms.

Feel free to mutter “childish” to yourself, but I believe in getting inspiration wherever you can find it, and the sight of Labour PMs, Attlee in particular, was always a great motivator; the sight of lots of Tory PMs on that staircase was a motivator too, a reminder that we had had far too many of them, and not enough from Labour. Three times as many Old Etonian PMs as Labour PMs in our history… fact. Dreadful. One of the reasons we are not what we could be as a country.

Since those days when I was running up and down that staircase several times a day, two Labour PMs have been added to the gallery, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown; I don’t know if Boris Johnson’s mug has yet been hung, but David Cameron’s and Theresa May’s have, and before too long, the likelihood is that Liz Truss’s face will be up there too… your picture only goes up once you’ve gone.

With six PMs since my stair-running days, I suspect that if they are going to squeeze all the portraits on the same yellow wall, they will have to reduce the size of those yet to be hung. That could be a fitting way of adjudicating Johnson’s disastrous tenure of Number 10, to have something no bigger than a Panini football sticker, stuck alongside Mrs May. As for Truss, perhaps we could start with postage stamp size if she survives three months, and then double it for every further month that she remains in post.

David Cameron left office on July 13, 2016, having a year earlier won an election by framing the choice as “stability with me, or chaos with Ed Miliband?” So we have now had four Tory prime ministers in just over six utterly chaotic years, in large part triggered by his EU referendum.

This is the kind of turnover that used to make us laugh at Italy. Worse, we have had four chancellors in four months… Rishi Sunak was there in July, Nadhim Zahawi in August, Kwasi Kwarteng in September and now Jeremy Hunt in October. This is basket case territory for a supposedly stable country.

It is as close to certain as anything can be in these crazy times that Truss will be joining the staircase gallery sooner rather than later. Conservative MPs in the main neither like nor respect her, and view the idea of her leading them into an election with dread. Also, the entire reason for her libertarian, über-free-enterprise premiership was erased by the mini-budget U-turns, the Kwarteng sacking and the Hunt media round the day after he was appointed. Frankly, right now, Hunt has a greater right to be viewed as the prime minister than she does.

So already the question being asked is: whose portrait goes alongside that of Truss? As the front page suggests, frankly any comedy character would do. There really has been a steady decline… Cameron at least looked and sounded the part; May was a bit robotic, was dealt a dreadful hand but had a sense of duty and a bit of dignity to her; Johnson is a dreadful human being and was a dreadful prime minister, but had a charisma of sorts and made (some) people feel optimistic; Truss has none of any of the qualities of all of the above, although when it comes to hiding under a desk she knows few equals.

If, as there ought to be, there was a general election tomorrow, the chances are Keir Starmer’s would be the face going in the frame. And after the chaos of recent years, the sight and sound of a serious grown-up in the job would be an enormous relief to the country and the world.

But the Tories will do all they can to replace Truss without the Tory members who picked her being involved, and without the general public being involved either. You might throw your hands up in horror at that, but if they can get away with it, they will.

Politics is so crazy, so volatile right now, that it would be unwise to predict anything with total confidence. After all, did anyone alive think at the start of the month that Jeremy Hunt would be chancellor by the end of it?

I have never placed a bet in my life. But if I imagine myself as a bookie, I am predicting a caretaker premier whose portrait will not be hung, and for the next PM photo-race – favourite Starmer; second favourite Sunak; third favourite Hunt; fourth favourite Penny Mordaunt, fifth favourite Boris Johnson (at long odds.)

When Truss was emerging as a serious contender in the Tory leadership, I said on The Rest Is Politics that if she became PM, “Keir Starmer could take a long holiday and still win.” That is why she won’t be there come the election.

Tory MPs uniting to topple her, and uniting around a single candidate, probably Sunak, strikes me as the only way they can get back on the pitch. They are so divided, however, that it may not be possible. And even if it is, it may already be too late. Here’s hoping.

In the latest episode of Make Me Prime Minister on Channel 4, we challenged the candidates to devise a policy to help lower fuel bills in an environmentally friendly way. The winning team, led by Adam Kirby, came up with the idea of a state-owned green energy company. And before anyone says “they stole that from Labour”, the episode was filmed several weeks before the party conference at which Keir Starmer laid out his plans.

I’m not saying that Labour stole it from the show, either; just that “real people” can have good policy ideas too.

Arriving in Dublin last week, I got into a cab, and the driver asked me what I was over for. “I’m at a conference doing a speech on Brexit,” I said.

“Jesus God alive, that’s a tits-up tale if ever there was one,” he replied. Couldn’t have put it better myself.

At the conference, of the tourism and hospitality sector, I asked for a show of hands on these three questions: Brexit – good or bad for the UK? Johnson – good or bad as prime minister? Truss – good or bad start as PM. The result… 100%, 100%, 100%. Bad. Bad. Bad.

Actor Robbie Coltrane’s legacy as an actor is considerable. But to his legacy as a human being can be added the fact that his friendship with Miriam Margolyes made her the go-to person for the Today programme to pay tribute.

Her “fuck you, you bastard” message to Jeremy Hunt as he left the building, having been interviewed before her, was surely the radio moment of the year, all the more powerful in that it was such a contrast to the tone she had adopted for her moving memories of her friend and Harry Potter colleague. I do love an 81-year-old with fire in the belly!

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See inside the What next? edition

Image: The New European

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Image: The New European

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