So it’s over, then. Just 44 days since taking office, and with eleven of those days given over to the now almost forgotten funerary rites for Queen Elizabeth II, Liz Truss has resigned as Prime Minister, having crashed the economy and revealed, inadvertently, how the Conservative Party of 2022 is in its death throes, finally succumbing to the suicidal impulses of its defining obsessions — the privatisation of everything, tax cuts for the rich, and propping up the failed fantasy of Brexit as something liberating rather than the disaster that it so clearly is, was and always will be.
The trigger for Truss’s record as Britain’s shortest-serving Prime Minister was the outrageous ‘mini-budget’ she cooked up with her Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, in which, with extraordinary arrogance, this delusional pair of shallow ideologues — marinaded in the far-right ‘libertarianism’ of the Tufton Street lobbying groups, who refuse to reveal their funding (although we know it involves climate change deniers and fossil fuel polluters) — sought to push through massive tax cuts for the rich at a time of rising inflation and spiralling energy costs. This was a recipe for disaster as the former Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, repeatedly explained during the farcical summer-long leadership in which Truss, somehow, wasn’t adequately exposed as an empty vessel.
The ‘mini-budget’ — shielded by Truss and Kwarteng from scrutiny by almost anyone, including, to cite one particularly pertinent example, the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR), which was established by George Osborne to review the public finances — spooked the markets to such an extent that the economy tanked, leading to the sacking of Kwarteng, and now the resignation of Truss.
Behind the scenes, meanwhile, former health secretary and unpopular leadership candidate Jeremy Hunt, who came last in the first round of this summer’s leadership campaign, was parachuted in to take over as Chancellor, and, indeed, as the de facto Prime Minister, undoing most of the £45 billion of unfunded tax cuts in the ‘mini-budget’, but claiming that the self-inflicted black hole in the nation’s finances can only be addressed through savage austerity cuts — even though there is nothing left to cut after the savage and cynical austerity programme introduced by David Cameron and George Osborne back in 2010, in which Hunt played a key part.
Now, we are told, there will be a week-long internal election process for yet another new Prime Minister, although with even less of a mandate than Truss, who was chosen by just 81,326 members of the Conservative Party (just 0.0017% of the UK’s registered electorate). This time around, Tory MPs (there are 357 of them) will elect the next Prime Minister, although those same Conservative Party members who voted for Truss will also be given some sort of a say, and it’s already clear that their preferred option would be for the discredited and disgraced Boris Johnson to return.
There has never been a government crisis quite like this before, and the fact that so many Tory MPs are continuing to take themselves seriously — with some them still warbling on about how the Conservative Party has the best interests of the country at heart — cannot disguise the fact that all they really seem to be doing is protecting their own jobs, that cushy £84,144 a year salary, plus lavish expenses for “running an office and employing staff, and maintaining a constituency residence or a residence in London.”
A General Election now!
What is needed now is for the Tories to accept that they have run out of options for clinging to power, and to call a General Election.
In polling today by YouGov, 63% of those polled said that whoever is chosen next week “should call an early general election”, with just 23% disagreeing.
The fact that some Tory MPs are still clinging to the claim that they have a mandate, based on the last General Election, in December 2019, only shows how deluded they are.
Opinion polls — which capture what the country feels now, rather than three years ago — indicate that the Conservative Party has never been more unpopular. Last week’s YouGov polling showed the Labour Party on 51%, and the Tories on just 23%, which, if repeated in a General Election, would lead to a Tory wipeout, and today the polling company Redford & Wilton Strategies has found Labour support at 55%, with the Tories on just 19%, a 36-point lead for Labour that is described as the “joint-largest lead for ANY party with ANY polling company since Oct. 1997.”
Noticeably, the 2019 General Election did indeed deliver the Tories an 80-seat majority, but only on the back of Boris Johnson promising to ‘Get Brexit Done’, which, three and a half years after the deadly EU referendum took place, not only appealed to the survivors of the 37.4% of the registered electorate who voted to leave the EU, but also, sadly, to many of those who didn’t vote to leave the EU, but who wanted some kind of closure.
Sadly, as with most of what Johnson said, the claim that he would ‘Get Brexit Done’ was a lie, designed solely to get him elected and then to keep him in power, as the ongoing crisis regarding the EU border and Northern Ireland demonstrates, and Johnson, of course, then proceeded to reel from one disaster to another — all caused by his persistent lies, his persistent evasion of responsibility, and his fundamental lack of interest in anything but himself, the Covid crisis being a particularly glaring example, although it was his partying during the lockdown, and his defence of sexually compromised ministers that eventually sank his premiership.
Blame Brexit — and take responsibility for it
What we mustn’t forget, though, is that Brexit is the poison that not only delivered us the narcissist Johnson, who would not otherwise have been elected as Party leader; it also ended up delivering us Liz Truss, who, as briefly noted above, had been captured by the malignant, opaquely-funded and unaccountable fantasists of Tufton Street, who had always hoped that the UK’s departure from the EU would enable them to shred all existing laws that had been embedded in our EU membership, and to turn the UK, lacking a formal constitution, into a tabula rasa — a blank slate — for rights.
In this terrifying fantasy world, all workers’ rights, our fundamental human rights, and all environmental and planning obligations could be burned in a vast bonfire of what they saw as obstacles to unfettered greed — further enriching the already rich, empowering corporations to do whatever they want, and relegating workers and the British people in general to some kind of lawless servitude.
The markets’ response to the fulfilment of Tufton Street’s deranged dreams should spell their demise, but their baleful influence will remain until the Tories are removed from power (and until broadcasters stop giving them platforms, on the basis that they refuse to declare who funds them).
However, what should be clear from an analysis of where they, Truss, Kwarteng and other ‘free market’ enthusiasts went wrong is that, in a very significant manner, they failed to recognize the jaw-droppingly severe damage inflicted on the British economy by Brexit. Look at the deregulated ‘investment zones’ that Truss and Kwarteng wanted to establish across the UK: not only are they a frightening idea in and of themselves, and, by including national parks and other environmentally sensitive areas, have enraged organisations as establishment-loving as the RSPB and the National Trust; more than anything, however, they fail to recognise that, since Brexit, no one actually wants to invest in the UK.
Cut off from the 27-country trading bloc across the Channel from us, which we used to be part of, we have succeeded not in re-establishing our ‘sovereignty’, and being free to become a resurgent global power; instead, we are an irrelevance off the north west coast of Europe, our economic power severely diminished, as a half-hour video by the FT, ‘The Brexit effect: how leaving the EU hit the UK’, released just two days ago, and already seen by over a million people, explains in detail.
Forensically analysing this “economic act of self-harm’, the film establishes why the UK is no longer regarded as a safe place to invest in, and also includes representatives of small- to medium-sized businesses who, in startling numbers that don’t generally receive enough media coverage, have seen their exports dry up — and it includes one surviving tea company who responded by moving most of their operations to Poland, ensuring their survival, but thereby depriving the UK of much-needed labour and revenue. As a report by the Economic and Social Research Institute has just established, “Trade from the UK to the EU is down 16% on the levels anticipated had Brexit not happened”, as the Guardian explained.
What is also clear is that the UK is also suffering from considerable labour shortages as a result of a massive exodus of EU workers — in farming, hospitality, the NHS and care homes, for example — and, overall, the failure of the British economy to bounce back after Covid like its former EU partners is only attributable to Brexit.
Is there a Labour future?
If there is to be a General Election, and a new Labour government, returning the UK to the single market and restoring freedom of movement is necessary for the health of the economy, although on this, as on so many other disastrous policies implemented by the Tories over the last 12 years, it remains to be seen if the Labour Party can grasp the significance of the multiple crises we face — and can take advantage of its current, and extraordinary 36-point lead.
As well as breaking the conspiracy of silence over Brexit — and finding a way of re-engaging with the EU to re-establish membership of the single market, and to accept freedom of movement — the Labour Party also needs to understand the importance of not clinging to notions that will not upset the UK’s powerful right-wing press. Stopping the Tories’ assault on the rights of immigrants is a necessary start (and will require Rachel Reeves to drop her callous indifference towards refugees and economic migrants), but it also needs to drop the Tories’ draconian assault on the right to protest, and to fully embrace what those protesting — primarily, environmental protestors — are trying to do.
That, in a nutshell, is to get the government to recognise the scale of the already unfolding global climate catastrophe, which, it apparently needs stressing, is by far and away the most crucial topic facing governments worldwide.
In Truss’s Tory Party, its worst fossil fuel-loving impulses were deliberately promoted, with a promise to issue over a hundred new oil and gas drilling licences, and an obsession with fracking. All of this needs to be stopped, with massive investment instead in renewable energy, which, as well as being clean energy, is also much cheaper and easier to set up.
The government also needs to invest massively in insulating Britain’s leaky homes, as part of an overall energy policy that ought to see nationalisation back on the agenda, as well as a windfall tax on energy companies who have made massive and unexpected windfall profits as a result of the war in Ukraine. If the UK were to follow the EU’s lead on a windfall tax, this would result in an £18 billion tax being levied on the fossil fuel giants.
As the sewage crisis has also shown, the UK’s privatised water companies are also unfit to be in charge of our water supplies, and they too should be re-nationalised. Overall, in fact, the privatisation mania that started under Thatcher has been a disaster, as the privatisation of the railways and the privatisation of the Royal Mail has also revealed.
There is, of course, a tsunami of other problems facing any incoming new government, if the Tories finally recognise that they can’t cling on until December 2024 — the cost of energy bills, rampant inflation (the highest for 40 years) and rising interest rates (prompted by the chaos of the ‘mini-budget’) being the three most prominent examples.
Perhaps the Tories will cling on — although I doubt that they can do so for another two years — giving Labour time to work on a viable alternative to a market-led centre-right status quo, which seems to be Starmer’s default position. One intriguing avenue that Starmer should pursue involves Modern Monetary Theory (MMR).
As the businessman and economist Andrew Levi explained in a recent Twitter thread, because the UK has been, since 1971, a fiat economy rather than one based on gold (giving central banks greater control over the economy because they can control how much money is printed), “The government can create & deploy into the economy as much of its own currency (£) as it wants, via the Bank of England & with Parliament’s permission”, but, “in common with other major economies, which also moved to fiat currencies in 1971, we have continued a policy which favours borrowing — in our own currency — to balance out government budget deficits.”
As Levi proceeds to explain, however, the main drawback of this ability to print money — quantitative easing — is because it can raise inflation, although it would “probably be OK if the economy was in a deep recession, operating well below capacity”, when, in fact, “deficit spending by the government, into the right parts of the economy, in the right way, wouldn’t just be allowable, it would be essential. Unless you wanted a new, entirely avoidable, Great Depression.”
Another thread, by Andy Verity, the BBC’s economics correspondent, is here, as is another by Dr. Nafeez Ahmed of Byline Times, and I found both via the website of the economist Richard Murphy. Ahmed’s latest article, ‘Britain’s Stark Choice Ahead: Transformation or Collapse’, just published today on Byline Times, is also worth reading.
I hope you find the above to be of interest, as we all wait to see how long this zombie Tory Party can continue to deny that its time is up, and that it needs a long time in the wilderness to try to work out what its future is. For now, Britain needs a change, and the Labour Party needs to think outside the box — and, I must add, also commit to introducing proportional representation, to finally rid us of the horribly unrepresentative first-past-the-post system, and, hopefully, to keep the Tories out of power forever.