Meet Liz Truss, Britain’s new Conservative Prime Minister
It seems the Tories have been in coalition with themselves – and it hasn’t gone well for them or anyone else and is unlikely to improve anytime soon.
The latest character to fall out of the clown car and jump into the energy is brand new Prime Minister Liz Truss. Truss, Britain’s third ever female prime minister – and the second in the last four years – was once an anti-monarchist Liberal Democrat and campaigned against Brexit. This means much less an ideological trajectory than a malleability that leans towards energy. During the summer of major roundups between her and former chancellor Rishi Sunak, she proved economically illiterate, politically opportunistic and uninteresting.
The Tories pick their leaders by allowing parliamentarians to narrow the race to the bottom two, then letting members resolve. When the competition started, less than a third of Britons knew who Truss was. Of the last four candidates from whom her parliamentary colleagues had to choose, she came third. But once she made it to the bottom two, because the parliamentarians liked her no less than the alternative options, the members favored her over Sunak, a robotic artist whom they blamed for having raised taxes and brought down Boris Johnson. Even then, his 57-43 win was the narrowest margin of any Tory leader elected below current guidelines. Truss herself has little to suggest to her beyond the truth that she is not Johnson and that she was the candidate most conservatives found the least distasteful. With a YouGov poll showing 50% of Britons are disappointed that she is the new Prime Minister (including a third of Tories), compared to 22% who are happy, whatever honeymoon she gets will be short-lived.
On unusual occasions, the Conservatives’ 66-seat majority in parliament could be enough to see Truss through to the end of that parliamentary term in 2024. But these are not unusual occasions. Britain is facing a financial crisis of a magnitude not seen for half a century or more.
Common fuel and electric power payments are expected to increase by 80% next month, a 177% increase since April. Inflation is now in double digits and rising. Authorities services have begun to stock up on carbon paper so that they can still copy and distribute their work in case power outages disable computer systems. The figure of one in four children already living in poverty at the start of the disaster is set to get worse, according to a report by the Finish Youngster Poverty Coalition. A latest survey revealed that a quarter of households plan to go without heating this winter. The country’s largest food bank has said it may have to close because it cannot afford electricity costs to keep its fridges and freezers running.
The resistance is mounting. Railway workers, authority legal professionals, postal workers, garbage collectors, dockworkers, telecommunications workers and London transport staff are all organizing strikes. Teachers, nurses, professors will all vote just as quickly on the strike motion. The past few months have seen the emergence of an increasingly militant, assertive, articulate and strategic labor movement that seeks to take the battle out of the workplace and into the communities, with a marketing campaign called “Enough is enough. ‘is enough”.
This could be Truss’ real opposition. For now, the style opinion is with the strikers. Enough Is Enough Conferences across the country are attracting capacity crowds.
In the meantime, the official opposition, Labor Day, remains on the sidelines. Having chosen to change course simply because the British working class was moving down a different path, it has endeavored to distance itself from these struggles. Labor Day leader Keir Starmer has ordered members of his shadow cabinet off the picket line and appears unable to lay out both an imaginative and prescient plan or agenda to get out of the catastrophe. Despite the dire state of the economy, the polls give him and his party a slim lead over Truss and the Conservatives. As long as Labor stays away from the battle to maintain housing needs, the party’s electoral reputation could be unstable and the already pervasive electoral cynicism will grow.
Neither Truss nor his group has a coherent and proportionate response to this catastrophe. On the campaign trail, his most consistent promise was to deliver a series of tax cuts that will primarily benefit the wealthy. This can give the most reduction to those who suffer the least, while those juggling eating or keeping the heat down go downstairs. But after the big dent that the coronavirus pandemic has imposed on the public purse, the tax cut promised by Truss is insane, even from a purely capitalist point of view – which is why he sent the pound into the crater, the leaving it even weaker against the dollar than when Britain voted for Brexit.
Different European countries, of varying political hues, are capping gas payments, sending hefty subsidies to the poorest, raising the minimum wage and heavily subsidizing public transport. Starmer offered to ban any further increases in electricity costs – a favorite suggestion – but ultimately the disaster revealed the vulnerability of Britain’s market-driven system and the need to renationalise electric power and fuel.
Whatever Truss’ plans are, it’s safe to imagine that, given his penchant for petty authority and the wealthy at a time when extra intervention is needed to help the poor, they won’t work. Certainly, a poll shows that even the Conservatives have little or no confidence in his ability to fix the problem. Such a failure would imply not only a social calamity for those in the rear but a precarious future for the political class. The Tories won their landslide majority largely by offering to ‘make Brexit work’ – making inroads into the traditional hearts of Labour, known as the ‘pink wall’ who had backed Brexit.
Brexit, however, was not accomplished, diplomatically, and did not deliver the benefits promised by Brexiteers. It is, however, now a well-established truth in electoral life and not a corner concern that could divide Labour’s Metropolitan and Northern constituencies. The Crimson-wall ridings are among those suffering the most; their constituents have the least allegiance to the Conservative party. When the Tories lost Johnson, they lost not just a charlatan and a liar but the party’s political center of gravity. Truss walks into Downing Road during a time of financial turmoil with little loyalty, trajectory, margin of error or time, and because the leader of a restless parliamentary group who might have loved someone other. Truly a coalition of chaos in a second of disaster.