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As Tory conference looms, the PM cuts a diminished figure after squandering much of her political capital | Politics News

Three-and-a-half weeks ago, Liz Truss was beaming as she was announced as the new leader of the Conservative Party.

She did not embrace her husband or console her defeated opponent – reaching instead for her victory speech and marching onto the stage.

The contrast as she heads to her party’s annual conference in Birmingham is stark. The prime minister already cuts a diminished figure after squandering much of her political capital – damaging her party’s reputation for economic management and demoralising many of her MPs, some of whom feel they are now facing an existential crisis.

Adam Boulton analysis: Autumn storm clouds are thickening thanks to mini-budget

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Truss acknowledges ‘some disruption’

“It was a foolish error,” says Martin Vickers, a normally loyal Conservative MP, of the government’s controversial mini-budget. “All we’ve done is supply ammunition to our political opponents.”

He added: “I’m not arguing about the direction of travel. But it was too much too soon. It has clearly spooked the markets and is causing unnecessary distress and concern to my constituents.”

“This can’t go on,” complains another frustrated MP.

“Meaning the policy or the people?” I ask.

“Both” is the reply.

The PM seems to be gradually willing to publicly accept a link between her policies and market turmoil – describing this overnight as “short-term disruption” – but there is no sign she is considering reversing any of the measures.

The government is instead expected to move ahead with significant spending cuts. Reports suggest that welfare benefits could also be affected and may only be increased in line with average earnings, not inflation.

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How might the government balance the books?

Mr Vickers is among a growing number of backbenchers happy to publicly express their exasperation and call for a change in government policy.

He will be attending the conference, but many colleagues critical of the leadership will be swerving it.

Former leadership contenders Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid are not expected to attend. The number of party members present may be diminished by rail strikes (ironic since the conference slogan is Getting Britain Moving) – and the cost of hotels in the city.

Alongside entertaining wealthy donors, meeting newspaper editors, and addressing members’ drinks receptions, Liz Truss is expected to carry out a series of national TV and radio interviews. Her bruising round of local radio interviews on Thursday morning suggests these encounters may be less than smooth.

The best opportunity to take control of the narrative, communicate directly with voters and reset her premiership remains the leader’s speech.

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Iconic party conference moments

In 2007, David Cameron delivered his 50-minute address without notes.

In 2017, Theresa May’s was almost brought to a standstill by a hacking cough, a P45 prank and a collapsing backdrop.

In 2021, a venue was constructed purely for Boris Johnson’s “Build Back Better” speech.

Mr Cameron wrote that his team would spend months “constructing the paragraphs, crafting the killer lines, choosing the ‘moments’ that would make people gasp or laugh or connect emotionally”.

Ms Truss’s team have not had the luxury of time for that level of preparation, yet the ideology driving her administration is at least settled.

Surviving a conference with her budget intact may be painful for the PM, but it seems perfectly possible.

A far more turbulent time is expected when parliament returns on 11 October, and the scale of backbench Tory opposition becomes clear.

The Great Debate promo Monday October 3
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The Great Debate promo Monday October 3
Cabinet to be asked to find ‘efficiency savings’ in Whitehall despite Truss promising no cuts | Politics News

Liz Truss’s cabinet is to be asked to find “efficiency savings” in Whitehall budgets, Sky News understands, putting huge pressure on frontline services. 

During the leadership contest, Ms Truss said that she was “not planning public spending reductions”.

Now the Treasury is expected to send out a letter within hours to secretaries of state insisting that departments find savings where possible and live within existing budgets.

This is to reduce the level of government borrowing needed in future, in a bid to calm the market turmoil.

Read more:
No ‘reversal of policy’ on mini-budget and chancellor won’t resign – live politics updates
Bank of England forced to take emergency action
Truss is a ‘danger to the economy’. Starmer says

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Treasury’s financial secretary said the government won’t take responsibility for the financial storm hitting the UK following the chancellor’s mini-budget.

The move comes as Kwasi Kwarteng is putting together a plan to show the markets that he can bring spiralling borrowing under control after the market turmoil.

Double-digit inflation will leave frontline services under huge pressure, but the letter will make clear there is no money left to help ease the situation.

On top of real-term cuts, additional efficiency savings will be demanded by the Treasury putting budgets under the biggest pressure since Theresa May reversed the austerity policy of the Cameron-Osborne years.

Chris Philp, the chief secretary to the Treasury, will send the letter, alongside a second letter from the prime minister outlining her priorities in government.

In July, Ms Truss said: “I’m very clear I’m not planning public spending reductions, what I am planning is public service reforms.

“I’m certainly not talking about public spending cuts, what I’m talking about is raising growth.

“I want people to be able to keep hold of their own money, but we’ll also have more money to spend on our public services over the long term.”

TfL secures £1.2bn funding but mayor warns fare increases and bus service cuts still likely | Business News

Transport for London has secured around £1.2bn in funding from the government, but the city’s mayor has warned the agreement is “far from ideal”.

The funding package replaces TfL’s last bailout, which was the fourth since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.

Andy Byford, Transport for London commissioner, said the agreement, which lasts until the end of March 2024, would bring benefits for the whole country.

“There is no UK recovery without a London recovery, and no London recovery without a properly funded transport network,” he said.

Mr Byford added that the funding would help avoid large-scale cuts to services and would mean the company would commit £3.6bn to capital investment over the period.

Among the projects to benefit will be new Piccadilly line trains, the repair of Hammersmith Bridge and the extension of the Northern line.

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said that the agreement brought “a number of key concessions from the government”, though he warned that it was “far from ideal”.

He said there would still be a £740m funding gap in TfL’s budget over the next 20 months, adding: “We will likely have to increase fares in the future and still proceed with some cuts to bus services.”

Read more:
Who is going on strike in August and September – and for how long
Inflation ‘could top 22% next year’ – cost of living latest

‘Onerous strings attached’

Mr Khan said: “There are also onerous strings attached, such as the government’s condition requiring TfL to come up with options for reform of TfL’s pension scheme at pace, which could well lead to more industrial action and more disruption for commuters.

“These are things we have had no choice but to accept in order to get the deal over the line to avoid TfL becoming bankrupt, to save the jobs of thousands of transport workers and to keep trains, tubes and buses running across our city.”

He added: “The sole cause of TfL’s financial crisis was the impact of the pandemic so it’s simply wrong to punish Londoners and transport workers in this way.

“Levelling up the country should not be about levelling down London.”

‘Put politics to one side and get on with the job’

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said: “For over two years now we’ve time and again shown our unwavering commitment to London and the transport network it depends on, but we have to be fair to taxpayers across the entire country.

“This deal more than delivers for Londoners and even matches the mayor’s own pre-pandemic spending plans, but for this to work the mayor must follow through on his promises to get TfL back on a steady financial footing, stop relying on government bailouts and take responsibility for his actions.

“Now is the time to put politics to one side and get on with the job – Londoners depend on it.”

‘Arrogant’ defence chiefs condemned for refusing to review cuts to army numbers | UK News

MPs have challenged a decision to shrink the size of Britain’s army by thousands of soldiers as a war rages in Europe, demonstrating the need for large land forces.

The Defence Select Committee also criticised cost-saving plans to retire dozens of tanks and other armoured vehicles before replacements are ready.

The MPs urged the Ministry of Defence at the very least to review the timelines for any changes to avoid creating capability gaps that could leave the armed forces vulnerable.

And they accused defence chiefs of appearing “arrogant and unwilling to learn lessons” from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or from last year’s disastrous retreat from Afghanistan.

Tobias Ellwood, chair of the committee, called on the next prime minister to commit more funds to defence.

“It is clear that now is not the time for personnel cuts or budget shortfalls in our armed forces,” he said. “We cannot afford for our [armed] services to become poorer and weaker. We need to spend more and spend it wisely.”

The cross-party committee has published a report into a major review of defence, security and foreign policy and accompanying papers released by the government last year.

It criticised commanders and mandarins for a reluctance to look again at the conclusions of their work – which set out the future size, capabilities and priorities of the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force – in the wake of the subsequent Afghan withdrawal and Russian war.

“No strategy should be set in stone nor subject to constant revision,” the committee said.

“However, there is a need for government to be able to respond to major events… rather than downplaying the potential implications of such geopolitical shocks.”

Read more: World entering ‘dangerous new age’ of threats, says UK’s top national security adviser

A move that came in for particular criticism was the plan to reduce the size of the army by almost 10,000 troops, from a target of 82,000 to 72,500, by 2025 – a reduction that would diminish the force to its smallest in more than 300 years.

The MPs said it was a worry given – on top of security threats – the UK’s already over-stretched soldiers are increasingly called upon to help in non-military emergencies such as floods and the response to COVID.

“We are especially concerned about the proposed cuts to personnel numbers and the effective reduction in mass, particularly since that we are seeing defence being used more and more often as an emergency measure to relieve exceptional pressures on public services and perform such tasks that otherwise might be expected to be carried out by others,” the committee said in its report.

At the same time, it noted that General Sir Patrick Sanders, the new head of the army, had described the cuts as “perverse” and that Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, appeared to support a review of the decision.

Separately to the evidence considered by the committee, Mr Wallace told Sky News this week that the army would likely grow rather than shrink if the next prime minister commits to a significant uplift in defence spending at a time of growing threats.

Gene therapy cuts risk of bleeding in haemophilia B patients, study finds | UK News

A new gene therapy can substantially cut the risk of bleeding in people with the rare condition haemophilia B, according to a new study.

Researchers found people who received a single injection of the gene therapy, called FLT180a, did not need to inject themselves every week with clotting factors – proteins that help control bleeding.

Haemophilia is a rare condition that impacts the blood’s ability to clot.

It is typically inherited and mainly affects men.

People with the condition lack clotting factors, which mix with blood cells called platelets to stop bleeding after cuts and injuries.

They can still suffer debilitating joint damage – a consequence of the condition – even with the weekly injections currently available.

Haemophilia A is caused by a lack of factor VIII and is more common, while haemophilia B is caused by a deficiency of factor IX.

In a new 26-week trial led by the Royal Free Hospital, University College London and biotechnology company Freeline Therapeutics, experts found that a single treatment with FLT180a led to sustained production of the protein from the liver in nine out of 10 patients with severe or moderately severe haemophilia.

Lead author Professor Pratima Chowdary, from UCL, said: “Removing the need for haemophilia patients to regularly inject themselves with the missing protein is an important step in improving their quality of life.

“The long-term follow-up study will monitor the patients for durability of expression and surveillance for late effects.”

Patients on the trial had to take immune suppressing drugs over several weeks to several months to keep their immune systems from rejecting the treatment.

While the therapy was generally well received, all patients experienced side effects.

One who received the highest FLT180a dose developed an abnormal blood clot.

Professor Amit Nathwani, who co-founded Freeline, a company focused on liver-directed gene therapies, said: “Gene therapy is still a young field that pushes the boundaries of science for people with severe genetic diseases.”

He said the trial, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, adds to “the growing body of evidence that gene therapy has the potential to free patients from the challenges of having to adhere to lifelong therapy or could provide treatment where none exists today”.