Outlived by a lettuce: an investigation into Liz Truss’ time in office
Harry Mcphail takes a look at Liz Truss’ time in office and how the Prime Minister was outlived by a lettuce.
British politics has rarely looked more chaotic and unstable as it has done over the last two months. Britain herself is a country known for reliable governments, which are by no means void of political disagreements, but governments which possess a sense of permanency nonetheless.
With the departure of Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak will now take on the role of Tory leader, making a historic moment in the UK. Not only is he the first Prime Minister of Indian heritage, but the youngest too. Before I look to the Sunak era and what that could mean for Britain, let us reflect on the Truss’ premiership which rivalled only the lifespan of a lettuce…
Liz Truss entered 10 Downing Street promising to ‘deliver, deliver, deliver’, however it quickly became clear that whatever she intended to deliver was not going to work for the country. Her leadership campaign was led on the principles of growth, and in particular a reshaping of the economy through the cutting of taxes. This plan, questioned at the time by fellow leadership candidate Rishi Sunak, quickly unravelled once Liz Truss became Prime Minister.
The ongoing war in Ukraine, the deepening cost-of-living crisis combined with the death of Queen Elizabeth II made for challenging circumstances. The Queen’s death understandably put politics on hold placing Truss in an unique situation. Once the mourning period for the Queen was over by the 20th September, the heat and volatility of British politics returned.
The so-called mini-budget announced by the then Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng was a pivotal moment in the undoing of the Truss premiership. In an attempt to reform the UK economy, the fiscal plan through a series of miscommunications and poor policy decisions was a political nightmare.
The so-called mini budget was a pivotal moment in the undoing of the Truss premiership
The fiscal plan included the biggest tax cuts since 1972, the removal of caps on bankers’ bonuses, a freeze on energy bills, the introduction of investment zones and an increase in borrowing. While the Daily Mail praised the economic programme as a ‘genuine tory budget’, many believed these were ‘unfunded’ measures that were a ‘big gamble at the wrong moment’.
Truss had severely misread the economic situation. In the days that followed the mini budget, the pound dropped to historically low trading levels, mortgage rates rose and borrowing bonds became more expensive for the UK government. In addition, pension schemes were significantly damaged as reported in the Financial Times. During a cost-of-living crisis when many were and are struggling financially, these measures were ill-judged. Most poignantly perhaps was the abolishment of the 45p tax bracket which felt untimely to say the least. The cutting of the top rate of tax was the first of many policies within the plan to be reversed on. This was an embarrassing episode for Truss who came on to Laura Kuenssbeurg’s Sunday Morning programme on the BBC and seemed to avoid accountability by placing responsibility on her Chancellor.
The Conservative Party Conference that followed was dominated by the new economic strategy which few were applauding. The £65 billion intervention from the Bank of England further signalled the flaws of the economic plan and the lack of preparation the financial sector was given before these relatively radical policies were introduced. Truss had to make a move to retain authority. The sacking of long-term political ally Mr Kwarteng appeased Tory backbenchers for a period of time. The appointment of Jeremy Hunt saw a U-turn on the majority of the policies seen in the mini budget. However, the damage had been done. The Tories, known for stable economics, had lost the trust of the people and Conservative MPs knew that to restore any trust, changes had to come.
When the Daily Star began a competition between Truss and a lettuce in their newspaper as to who would survive the longest, Liz Truss was on borrowed time.
The sacking of Mr Kwarteng represented a huge shift away from the leadership campaign Truss had ran in the summer and while the sacking was a necessary political move to ensure support of her parliamentary party, it undermined her authority hugely. A vote on fracking which became an apparent vote of confidence in the Truss regime resulted in the resignations and then undoing of resignations of both the Chief and Deputy Whips within the Conservatives. Added to that, Suella Braverman resigned as Home Secretary – one of the key offices of state – over a breaking of ministerial code. In her resignation letter she implied her boss should do the same stating ‘resigning is the right thing to do’ following a ‘mistake’.
That evening following Braverman’s resignation and accusations of bullying during the fracking vote, Sir Charles Walker – Tory MP – gave a damming verdict on the government. Labelling members of his own party ‘talentless’, Walker spoke about how ‘livid’ he was with his own party for repeating the same mistakes and failing to deliver as a government.
That evening following Braverman’s resignation and accusations of bullying during the fracking vote, Sir Charles Walker – Tory MP – gave a damming verdict on the government
A day later on the 20th October, after only 45 days as Prime Minister, Liz Truss resigned as leader of the Conservative Party, once again plunging the country in to a chaotic situation, with the familiar names seen in the summer rising again. Sunak, the favourite. Mourdant, the grassroots flagbearer. Then Johnson, the returning hero…
Sir Graham Brady in hope of a swift transfer of power announced candidates would need the support of at least 100 MPs to be put forward to the Conservative membership. This narrowed the race and Boris, although he claimed to have 102 MPs supporting, withdrew having failed to reach power sharing agreements with Penny Mourdant and Rishi Sunak, his former Chancellor. Then, just as the nomination period was closing, Penny Mourdant withdrew from the contest and pledged full support behind Rishi Sunak.
Rishi Sunak, now our Prime Minister, has a very difficult task. Keeping Hunt was a crucial step in restoring market stability. Re-appointing Braverman sparked debate with Kier Starmer pointing to the possibility of ‘grubby’ deals being done. This may or not be the case but reinstalling Braverman didn’t align well with Sunak’s ambition for a government with ‘integrity’.
It seems clear that Sunak will need to steady the economy if he wants to be a successful Prime Minister. He has two years to make his claim to the British people but as we’ve seen 2 years is a long time in politics.
Starmer’s Labour look as united and inspired as they have done in recent years and while they still need an election-winning agenda, they are looking more and more like a government-in-waiting.
Now though, Sunak must look to regain Britain’s international credibility. Divisions over Brexit still loom large across all corners of the United Kingdom and these will remain hard to overcome. However, Rishi Sunak has a chance to stamp his mark on the country and while there will be constant calls for an Election, particularly from Labour, Conservative MPs for now will have to unite behind their new leader. If they don’t, they will face an uphill battle with Labour miles ahead in the polls.
Britain has been home to a frantic period of politics over the last 2 months. It is now the task of Rishi Sunak to pull his government together and crack on with the job.