PANIC STATIONS

Truss and KwasiIt’s fair to say the Commons chamber hasn’t been quite the same since the departure of Dennis Skinner. The Beast of Bolsover lost his seat in the Red Wall wipe-out of 2019, just a few months short of completing a remarkable half-century as an MP. His comical quips – particularly at the State Opening of Parliament – became, for many, the main reason to sit through the interminable ritual of the occasion, providing some much-needed light relief from the ceremonial pantomime. Perhaps one of his most memorable digs at the Tories came during the Con-Dem Coalition years, when he referenced a Cabinet reshuffle brought on by some cock-up characteristic of appointing mediocrities to positions of power. Skinner aimed his barb at David Cameron and George Osborne, accusing them of being true to character by doing what toffs always do – they ‘blame it on the servants’. The political partnerships, of which the Cameron/Osborne double act was an example in the Blair/Brown mould, no longer seem to be the currency in Westminster. Power appears to be increasingly centralised in the person of an isolated individual like Theresa May or Boris…or Liz Truss. And has our incumbent PM blamed it on a servant by abruptly dismissing her Chancellor?

At least Kwasi Kwarteng has secured himself a place in history by being sacked after just 38 days – the shortest-ever run as Chancellor of the Exchequer that wasn’t caused by the holder of the office dropping dead, as happened to the unfortunate Ian Macleod within 30 days of Ted Heath’s General Election victory of 1970. Truss’s brainwave of handing posts to close friends, allies and those who publicly backed her during the leadership contest – regardless of their competency for the job at hand – spectacularly backfired with Kwarteng, who has become the patsy for the disastrous mini-budget earmarked as the PM’s first major act once the post-Brenda dust had settled. News broke of the swift sacking just before Truss held an emergency press conference at which she was expected to prove the lady’s for turning after all. The press conference spanned a mere eight minutes, during which she avoided questions over her own perilous position and speedily exited without responding to a request to ‘apologise for trashing the Tories’ reputation’. To be fair, that reputation was trashed long before Liz Truss grabbed the poisoned chalice, but she’s seemingly done her best to keep up the good work begun by her predecessor.

There’s no doubt the MSM is having fun speculating on who will replace Truss – surely a record time-span for such speculation to begin appearing? – and pressure on the Prime Minister to go when she’s barely had the chance to start work is akin to the new manager of a football club finding the fans on his back by opening his account with three defeats in a row. But Truss still being in the top job means she can fire the assistant manager, essentially ‘blaming it on the servant’ and lumbering him with carrying a can that nonetheless has her name on it by virtue of her own poor judgement in appointing Kwarteng in the first place. Rumour has it a divergence of opinion between the PM and her Chancellor on how to reverse the economic master-plan that provoked such panic in the markets and sent ripples through the Tory backbenches has been brewing for days, but Truss being in the senior position enabled her – in the legendary words of Jeremy Thorpe – to lay down her friends for her life. Whatever the dubious right of the far-from saintly City to intervene in the democratic process and reject Government policy, the PM evidently had to do something to calm the situation, and sacking Kwarteng was deemed the best option.

The ex-Chancellor himself will obviously reserve his true feelings for his future memoirs; the bland statement he issued was typically, uncritically sober. ‘You have asked me to stand aside as Chancellor,’ he tweeted. ‘I have accepted…I deeply respect the decision you have taken today. You have put the national interest first.’ Well, she certainly put the interests of Liz Truss first, but Kwarteng went on to try and defend the mini-budget as well as he could by claiming ‘following the status quo was simply not an option’ before adding ‘the economic situation has changed rapidly since we set out the growth plan on 23 September. In response, together with the Bank of England and excellent officials at the Treasury, we have responded to those events and I commend my officials for their dedication.’ On the positive side – for Mr Kwarteng – he’ll probably receive more from being paid-off (i.e. three months’ salary) than he pocketed from his month as Chancellor. Swings and roundabouts, eh? That’s undoubtedly true for the man who has eagerly stepped into Kwarteng’s shoes, none other than the former Foreign Secretary, Health Secretary and serial failed leadership contender, Jeremy Hunt. Stranded on the backbenches since 2019, Hunt is back in business, probably provoking palpitations in political presenters across the MSM as they attempt to stop their tongues slipping. Where’s James Naughtie when you need him?

If one were to count Rishi Sunak’s last few weeks at No.11 and include Nadhim Zahawi in his brief stint as ‘caretaker’, we’ve had four Chancellors in the space of three months. If ever evidence were required as to what a bloody shambles this shower of a governing party has descended into, look no further. I always thought only Italy ever had such unstable government, yet if the media and large swathes of the Conservative Party get their way and oust Truss, she herself will be in competition with George Canning as the shortest-serving Prime Minister in UK history. Canning held the top job for a mere 119 days between April and August 1827, though his term of office was inconveniently curtailed by his death. Canning, who had already been Foreign Secretary and Chancellor, was 57 when he became PM; he’d famously had a duel with fellow Minister Lord Castlereagh several years before, and his selection as Prime Minister by George IV deprived him of the talents of the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel (neither of whom would serve under him). If the talent available to Liz Truss seems so threadbare as to warrant the recall of Jeremy Hunt, Canning himself struggled to recruit Tories and resorted to Whigs, so severe was the split in Tory ranks at the time. Yes, we have been here before.

Canning died of consumption on 8 August 1827, four days short of just four months in office. Liz Truss’s physical health appears to be an improvement on that of her distant Tory predecessor; her mental health is another issue altogether – though maybe it’s not the done thing to mock the stupid these days. The same lame and meaningless buzzwords lifted from the politicians’ book of vapid platitudes tumbled out of her mouth during her brief post-Kwarteng press conference as she managed the admirable achievement of saying nothing for eight minutes. The PM ‘answered’ an impressive four questions, declaring she remains determined to deliver on all the pledges she made during the leadership campaign whilst refusing to say sorry for the chaos she’s presided over in the last few weeks. ‘I am absolutely determined to see through what I have promised,’ she said, ‘to deliver a higher growth, more prosperous United Kingdom, to see us through the storm we face.’ And then she was gone, presumably in a determined fashion – for that would seem to be her favourite word.

If one considers that the first fortnight of her tenure at No.10 was placed on ice by the national mourning for the Queen, and was then followed by the holiday that is the Conference season, Liz Truss has probably only been at work for not much more than a couple of weeks. In one respect, she’s achieved a hell of a lot in an extremely short space of time; few imagined anyone could surpass Boris in terms of uselessness, but you can’t argue she’s given it her best shot. Naturally, opposition parties are having a field day over this Tory meltdown, but I couldn’t care less what Keir Starmer or Ed Davey have to say; if Dennis Skinner was still in the Commons, mind…

© The Editor

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12 thoughts on “PANIC STATIONS

  1. This appalling government is now really plumbing the depths and we now see the dregs of politicians such as the likes of Katherine Fletcher, who is so full of inepitude that the phone doesn’t even get answered in her constituency office, constituents are continually ignored et al but she somehow manages to find the time for the never ending photo-ops. Complaining is a waste of time and as for the Code of Conduct? Well that is simply there not to ensure standards are upheld but merely to look as through they are. Replies are generic with constituents names pasted. I know this because I received an email destined for someone else and when mine appeared a day later…they hadn’t bothered even reading my complaint…it was word for word.
    Both Justice secretaries ( Raab and Lewis) at least operate constituency offices where calls are answered immediately but they have to direct the person to the MoJ website. Here it takes awhile to find the contact form to give a brief description of your query that can take up to 4 weeks for a response. A Kafkaesque nightmare for sure.
    I miss Dennis Skinner. His quib about the Queen working with horses, Diana and Fergie should be marriage counsellors and Philip should run a kebab shop always makes me laugh. I bet he drinks Carling black label- Truss certainly does not!

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    1. A friend of mine described the state of the nation to me yesterday simply listing his own personal encounters with the mess we’re in – trying to get a GPs appointment, confronted by the absence of favourite foodstuffs from empty supermarket shelves (and the extortionate price of the remaining goods), the incompetence of helplines for the likes of Virgin and Amazon (conversations with bots, being placed on hold for an hour, then trying to explain the problem to someone with a poor grasp of English etc.) and obviously touched upon this government before the rant was over.

      I pointed out at least those of us who remember the Three-Day Week and the Winter of Discontent no longer have to describe what it was like to those who weren’t there. And we had a decent soundtrack too!

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  2. It is often said that Labour’s 1983 manifesto was the longest suicide note in history – it seems that the Truss/Kwarteng ‘fiscal event’ may have become one of the shortest.

    Most of politics, as with the markets, is about confidence: if people have confidence in the leaders, they can get away with all manner of actions but, without that shield of confidence, everything they do is subject to scepticism. Even if Liz survives the immediate term, she will now struggle ever to establish any such confidence, so will be perpetually playing catch-up.

    And all the anti-Boris plotters probably still haven’t worked out that you should always be careful what you wish for.

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    1. ‘The Week in Westminster’ was especially enlightening this morning. Steve Richards aired the theory that the Tory backbenches have had a disproportionate influence over the Party since Major’s post-1992 crisis and the time has come to curtail their control over leaders in particular.

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  3. Your description of Truss’s speech brought to my mind Peter Sellars’ delightful ” Party Political Speech” which I last heard on / from / off ( somebody will know the correct preposition) real vinyl many years ago, many, many years.
    Did a search and found it, in all its, unscratched, fresh out of the sleeve, glory on Youtube. Made me laugh again.
    It must be studied as part of the Politics, Philosophy and Economics courses that thick politicians seem to take.

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    1. I think a day is a long time in politics at the moment, never mind a week, so I’m sure I’ve probably made observations on recent posts that the cheese in my fridge has outlasted.

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      1. The esteemed organ that is The Daily Star is running a live stream, ” Will Daily Star’s 60p Tesco lettuce or PM Liz Truss last longer?”

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