Ditching Liz Truss for a new leader won’t save the Tories – Ian Swanson
Liz Truss was, as politicians often like to say, perfectly clear.
She made no bones about what she planned to do if she became leader. Cutting taxes – and specifically reversing the 1.5 per cent rise in National Insurance and halting the planned increase in corporation tax – was the central plank of her leadership campaign.
And when she won, she was as good as her word – at least in announcing these policies, along with a series of other tax reductions. And she felt no shame about the biggest gains in the mini-budget going to those who were already wealthy – there had to be incentives for investment, she argued.
But of course it all then went horribly wrong as the markets reacted badly and the international community became concerned. Rishi Sunak, Truss’s rival in the leadership contest, had warned that her plans would lead to economic disaster – and how right he was. But it was Tory party members that decided who should be leader and they preferred Truss and her tax cuts to Sunak and his more sober approach. It's a safe bet that members won't be getting as much say on leaders in future.
However, it wasn't only the membership who failed to heed the warnings. Although Truss failed to secure a majority among MPs in their vote, there were plenty of her parliamentary colleagues who, once it was clear which way the wind was blowing, publicly endorsed her ahead of the members’ vote, so they too must share the blame.
They effectively gave permission for Truss to embark on an uncompromising experiment in the most extreme, right-wing, free market economic dogma. She was delighted to abolish the top rate of income tax (not in Scotland) and scrap curbs on bankers’ bonuses while apparently planning to give benefit claimants, already struggling on the breadline, a below-inflation increase. It seemed a million miles away from all the previous talk of “levelling up”.
Liz Truss said she was willing to be unpopular – but she probably hadn't envisaged having the lowest approval ratings of any Prime Minister ever. It's easy to see why Tory MPs want rid of her, even if her 41 days in office are barely one-third of the current record for Britain’s shortest-serving premier – that was Tory George Canning, who died in post after 119 days in 1827.
The Tories are notoriously ruthless in dealing with failed leaders, but it seems unlikely a change at the top is going to do much to help them. It’s too late. The damage has been done. The party traditionally regarded by voters as the one most competent at managing the economy has ruined its own reputation. Jeremy Hunt’s appointment as Chancellor and his reversal of almost all the mini-budget’s measures may calm the markets and restore some semblance of normality at Westminster – though spending cuts and a difficult winter are still ahead – but the Tories' status as trusted custodians of the nation’s finances is shot. The party has destroyed its own best selling point with the electorate. And there seems little chance that will be clawed back before the next general election.