After a series of U-turns, involving controversial tax cuts for the rich, UK PM Liz Truss is looking to be ousted after only six weeks.
At the moment, six weeks seems an eternity in UK politics. Six weeks is how long Liz Truss has been at the helm. And what a squall it is that is battering her boat, poorly equipped for such high seas after years of maintenance cutbacks.
Fun fact: I have perishables in my fridge from four Chancellors of the Exchequer ago. They come and go around here nearly as quickly as lies from the lips of a serving Prime Minister.
In vying for party members’ support (and not the general voting public), we have seen Liz Truss swing to the right in order to get herself voted into leader of the Conservative Party and thus Prime Minister. But once in charge, she has had to appease not the baying right, but the general public, beset by rising inflation, a fuel crisis, a cost-of-living crisis, and looming Brexit-driven political and economic insecurity.
So, defeating then-Chancellor Rishi Sunak (who had warned of inflation and the risk of cutting taxes in his campaign, advising a sensible path through negotiating public finance black holes), Truss listened to her close ideological advisors. These sorts of people sit on the right of the party, or are lobbyists for small government think tanks (such as Mark Littlewood of the Institute of Economic Affairs).
At times like these, what the general public surely want are ideologues in charge who advocate slashing workers’ rights so they can be sacked on a whim after being paid derisorily, who advocate slashing central and local government budgets to achieve small government, entailing massive job cuts across the public sector and resulting reduction in services, and who advocate tax cuts for the richest.
Truss and her short-lived Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng listened. And they acted. In so doing, we saw the shortest experiment in trickle-down economics ever attempted. In this cost-of-living crisis, Truss sanctioned tax cuts for the richest arguing that, even though they disproportionately benefitted the richest, they were necessary to stimulate growth that would then benefit the poorest.
This was lauded by those who advocate trickle-down economics, once called horse-and-sparrow economics as the horse eats the oats, digests them, defecates them out, and the sparrows peck at the faeces—the horses being the rich, and the flocks of hungry sparrows the poor.
These tax cuts for the rich would surely produce massive growth in jobs for all!
Those against such sacrifice of the poor at the altar of the rich were not so sure, and they won the battle of the narratives. The general public understood that post-COVID, with a war raging and with swathes of public sector jobs on the line as the public purse would be ransacked, they didn’t want taxes to be cut for the rich.
The Bank of England had to react to shore up the markets, intervening to directly combat the adverse reaction of the markets in reply to the Kwarteng-Truss announcements. This was almost unprecedented and a very public sign that the pair in charge were attempting to commit economic harakiri.
Truss fought hard for her vision and then saw the public’s very strong reaction, throwing her trusty steed, Kwarteng, on her sword.
Her six-week stint has been U-turn after U-turn, now bringing in her former leadership opponent Jeremy Hunt as the next Chancellor. The Guardian wonders whether such successive U-turns can still be labeled as such:
Which is the worst U-turn since Liz Truss became prime minister? Sure, you’re going to say the tax cuts for the rich, an absolute by-numbers disaster, from the market crash on the day of the announcement, through days of fresh catastrophe and an absent leader, in flat denial that anything was wrong, to the reversal itself, inelegantly announced (“We get it and we have listened”) to a party and, more importantly, a national economy in disarray. But let me just offer for comparison the lesser-spotted double U-turn: first the Tories were going to make a fuller financial statement on 23 November, then, in a panic, they brought it forward to the end of October, only to push it back to its original date, then, just this week, pulled it forward again. Does U-turn even cover this? Should we be calling it a hokey-cokey?
All over the radio waves, Conservative voters are ranting and saying she must go, or decrying the situation where, if she resigns, they would effectively be handing the keys to Number 10 to Labour. But if six weeks is a long time, then the 2024 general election is an eon away. The electorate has a short memory. We know this because most Conservative voters want Boris Johnson, liar-extraordinaire, back in the driving seat.
This is quite the dilemma for the Tories. But given that they control the media landscape, and the voting mechanisms most support them in England in particular (and the SNP in Scotland, thus favoring the Tories by extension, against Labour), anything could still happen between now and 2024.
As ever with the Conservative Party, it will not be about Truss resigning. No, they prefer the Brutus approach. The knives are out, with very public intentions of MPs of her own party to depose her.
The question in this Ides of March remake is not if but when, and of course who will be holding the knife?