Liz Truss’s reappearance is a nightmare for Rishi Sunak – Ian Swanson
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Liz Truss’s disastrous 49-day premiership last autumn is something Rishi Sunak and his colleagues are trying to put behind them and help the nation forget about.
But three months after she left Number Ten, the UK’s shortest-serving Prime Minister is back in the headlines, defending her policy agenda of unfunded tax cuts, business incentives and deregulation, implicitly criticising her successor for his plan to raise corporation tax, and signalling she wants to return to frontline politics. In her 4,000-word Sunday newspaper article, there was no apology to the families who saw their mortgage payments soar thanks to her reckless measures and no acknowledgement from this free marketeer that she completely misjudged how the markets would react to her radical right-wing economic experiment.
Instead, she complained she was not given “a realistic chance” to enact her policies, claimed no one warned her of the effect on the bond markets and insisted she was right to do what she did, but “the forces against it were too great”. She blamed a “powerful economic establishment” and claimed the consensus had “shifted leftwards” because Conservatives had not argued strongly enough for low taxation.
Senior Tories have called her “brass-necked” and “delusional”. But there are plenty in the party – both in the membership and among MPs – who still agree with her basic argument. She won the leadership contest against Rishi Sunak last summer with the votes of 57 per cent of members. And although more MPs backed Mr Sunak, she would not have been on the ballot paper if 113 MPs had not voted for her to be there.
Two of Ms Truss’s key allies, Therese Coffey and James Cleverly, are in Mr Sunak’s Cabinet. And a new Conservative Growth Group has recently been formed as the party’s latest internal pressure group, to press for Truss-style “pro-growth” policies, with 50 MPs signed up.
Ms Truss’s return to the spotlight is a nightmare for Rishi Sunak – first because it reminds people how incompetent the previous Tory Prime Minister was; and second, because it not only reopens old wounds but also fuels the current divisions in the party. Her reappearance will boost those Tory backbenchers clamouring for Jeremy Hunt to cut taxes in his March 15 budget, even though he has made clear that won’t happen. And she and her supporters will no doubt use the inevitable Tory losses in England’s local elections in May as evidence the party is on the wrong track.
The Prime Minister is already in difficulty, not least for his failure to resolve the rolling wave of strikes throughout the public sector and his handling of the numerous cases of sleaze and scandal engulfing the government. And he is having to put up with constant speculation about a comeback by Boris Johnson.
The last thing he needs is another pretender to his post, but MPs and commentators interpret Ms Truss’s re-emergence as a sign of revived ambition. In her article, she promised: "I will expand on the lessons I have learnt in the coming weeks and months." And one ally was quoted as saying: "She thinks she lost the battle but this is a long game."
But there’s a good reason why Liz Truss was the shortest-serving Prime Minister in UK history – and that’s worth remembering.