She may have sped ahead of her solitary rival in a leadership race for the most select of audiences – and she is indeed fortunate to be up against a man so adept at shooting himself in the foot; but Liz Truss (whose name always sounds like it belongs in the toolbox of a St John’s Ambulance-man) was today confronted by stats that don’t reflect her 26-point lead over Rishi Sunak amongst Tory voters. A survey carried out by Opinium suggests Truss’s much-trumpeted solution to the cost-of-living crisis – tax cuts – has not gone down well with the wider electorate; 34% of those polled believe taxes, as well as spending on public services, should stay exactly where they are, and a further 26% want them raised. The survey appeared in the Observer, so Conservative Party members – in whose hands the decision rests, like so many clandestine cardinals picking a new Pope – were not included. Nevertheless, the chosen 160,000 seem to be favouring the Foreign Secretary over the former Chancellor.
Some wag on Twitter cleverly redubbed Rishi’s Tunbridge Wells boast about redirecting ‘levelling up’ funds from deprived urban areas to wealthy Tory shires with a soundtrack of Alan Partridge during his disastrous stint hosting an open-air country show. It was an apt manipulation of a mistimed moment. Yes, Sunak was preaching to the converted and telling them precisely what they wanted to hear, but he surely must have known someone in that crowd would be recording his speech on their phone and was highly unlikely to keep it to themselves. Whilst not necessarily in the same league as Gordon Brown’s infamous ‘bigoted woman’ comment, it was still something of a cock-up characteristic of a campaign that has oozed surface and has been short on substance. One could argue Rishi’s prime concern at the moment is to capture the faithful on whose votes he is ultimately dependent for the keys to No.10 – hence such crowd-pleasing claims – yet he should be aware as much as his rival that a General Election in a couple of years means he has to reach beyond them too.
However, even those who don’t have a say in this contest – i.e. around 97% of the electorate – haven’t been convinced by Sunak’s slick spiel; Truss is well ahead of Rishi as preferred PM amongst all voters; and, as was pointed out at the beginning of this post, Truss’s lead over Rishi is even more impressive amongst those who voted Conservative at the last General Election. Perhaps equally encouraging for Truss is the fact that the same poll puts her ahead of Keir Starmer as a potential Prime Minister, albeit only by one point – though Sunak is four points behind the Labour leader; maybe the fact Truss is regarded by those polled as being more in touch with ordinary folk is merely because the ex-Chancellor makes David Cameron look like Dennis Skinner. And it’s also worth noting that a larger proportion of the lucky 2000 punters asked for their opinions went for the ‘none of the above’ option, which seems to say more about the contenders and the opposition when it comes to this uninspiring spectacle than any of the other stats such a survey can throw up.
Needless to say, anything remotely approaching a ‘honeymoon period’ that Liz Truss is anticipating probably won’t last very long; she’ll take the reins of power in September and within a month she’ll be expected to do something about the much-publicised, astronomical soar in energy prices that is – according to the MSM – poised to plunge most of us who aren’t Tory Party members into fuel poverty. Oh, and the Bank of England is adding to the beloved Doomsday narrative by forecasting the mother of all recessions. When it comes to the issue of energy prices, the futile pursuit of ‘Net Zero’ is noticeably absent from so many column inches as one of the reasons why energy bills will rise for those least able to pay them. The war in Ukraine is a far more convenient reason – and one guaranteed to receive the thumbs-up; after all, it’s bloody horrible and everyone hates Vlad, so it’s a preferable excuse than one shining a light on the way in which Western Governments have capitulated to the most fanatical zealots of the Green lobby at the expense of plebs already struggling to make ends meet.
As for the other treat we’ve got to look forward to in the autumn – i.e. the impending recession – well, it’s not as if nobody saw this coming, is it? If you completely close down industry for months and give no clear indication as to when all those mothballed businesses can reopen, it’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen. The tax cuts Liz Truss favours over what she calls ‘handouts’ to help people cope is a clear nod to Rishi’s magic money tree during the furlough episode of lockdown, effective benefits for the employed which anyone with half-a-brain knew were glorified loans from the Government usurer that would eventually have to be paid back. Actual benefits in the shape of Universal Credit were unsurprisingly the first to feel the pinch, losing the £20-a-week uplift, and since then benefits haven’t kept up with inflation either. Lib Dem leader Ed Davey is keen on Parliament to be recalled from its summer hols to look as if something is being done – as is former PM Gordon Brown, who instigated a report into the cost-of-living crisis that has just been published.
Brown calls on the two leadership contenders as well as Boris to get their fingers out by delivering a special budget ASAP, and has aired his thoughts on the emergency, which are fittingly bleak for a man not renowned for being the life and soul of the party. But, let’s face it – we’re all now becoming as accustomed to emergencies as Brits back in the 1970s were, so the findings of this report make for the expected gloomy reading. Even before energy regulator Ofgem announces details of the rising price cap on fuel, the report claims many families and individuals in Britain appear to exist solely to pay bills at the moment; and having been in that position in the past, I know how demoralising it is. A grassroots movement encouraging those most terrified of what’s to come to essentially go on strike and refuse to pay their bills is a nice, collectivist concept in the tradition of what happened when the Poll Tax was introduced in 1990, but – like the fruits of Sunak’s magic money tree – it’ll still all have to be paid back in the end, anyway, so it’d only just be kicking the can further into the long grass, alas.
‘We are facing a humanitarian crisis that Britain hasn’t seen in decades,’ says Gordon Brown. ‘As living costs continue to skyrocket, families on the brink of making ends meet cannot bridge the gap. (The next Prime Minister) must ensure that families have enough to live, through this crisis and beyond.’ The author of the report, Professor Donald Hirsch, says even those receiving financial assistance from the Government stand to see their standard of living decline rapidly; Prof. Hirsch’s report states an unemployed couple with two kids will be as much as £1,300 worse off a year. Gordon Brown urges action immediately, and if that fails to happen soon, that failure will be responsible for ‘condemning millions of vulnerable and blameless children and pensioners to a winter of dire poverty’.
I guess many MPs will currently be sunning themselves on some beach that the majority of their constituents will never sun themselves on, and the recent publication of the latest expenses claims by Honourable Members suggests their world remains a parallel universe of privilege to ours. And, smack bang in the middle of this uneasy calm before a dreaded storm, we’re lumbered with a lame duck Prime Minister counting down the days till his eviction and a couple of potential replacements travelling up and down the country, selling themselves to people who are amongst the least threatened by what awaits the rest of us. Doesn’t fill you with much confidence, does it.
© The Editor