Liz Truss’ big choice – POLITICO


Press play to listen to this article

LONDON — Liz Truss promised the land to members of the Conservative Party during the election campaign. The question now facing Westminster is whether, assuming she becomes British Prime Minister on September 6 as planned, she can possibly deliver on her promises.

The government manifesto that Truss unveiled during his six-week leadership campaign is both ambitious and hugely expensive – and, critics say, bordering on impossible, given the growing state of most fragile part of the British economy.

Truss has made “day one” tax cuts his flagship offer, a totemic pledge that has proven successful in the ears of members who want to see the party return to its tradition as a small, low-tax state.

But his declared resistance to offering “handouts” to those in need – even during an unprecedented spike in energy bills – has been abandoned under intense public pressure, and allies now accept that ‘An expensive support program for struggling households will also be needed in the emergency budget scheduled for September 21.

Proponents and opponents are beginning to question whether the two pledges are realistic, as soaring UK inflation hammers public finances, and the scale of what households will face this winter becomes clear – or whether Truss may need to pivot once the battle for members’ hearts has been won.

“She has a choice to make,” said a senior opposition Labor party official. “It’s hard to see how she can possibly afford – or justify – £30billion in tax cuts once she speaks to the nation and not just the 180,000 Tory members. The whole conversation will be about helping households with their bills. Is she late? Does she press? Does she continue to borrow? We all know there is no money.

“An extremist”

There is certainly precedent for British politicians who have abandoned their once solemn promises, having won the hearts and minds of party members in internal leadership races.

Labor leader Keir Starmer courted his party’s left in 2020 by promising to adopt some of his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn’s more radical policies – only to abandon them en bloc once in power. Outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Tory members in 2019 that he would cut income taxes for middle earners and deliver Brexit by October of that year. Neither happened.

But those who have worked closely with Truss insist she is unlikely to abandon her right-wing instincts if she becomes Tory leader next month.

Unlike Johnson, whose ideological allegiances have always been hard to pin down, Truss “really believes all this right-wing economic theory, and that will definitely guide her,” said a former cabinet minister who worked alongside him.

A senior Tory MP who backed her as party leader echoed that, adding: ‘She has always been an extremist in everything she does.

Asked if Truss would implement the tax cuts she promised in the fall, another supportive Tory MP said: ‘She’s going to have to. She’s come this far being someone who sticks to her guns and does what she believes in.

Comparing Truss’ approach to that of her heroine, Margaret Thatcher, the supporting MP added: ‘I think we could be heading for culture shock in the 1980s way. She will have people around her to telling her to do radical things and that she has two years as prime minister to make a difference before fighting an election.

Indeed, last week, Jacob Rees-Mogg, one of Truss’s close allies, wrote an article for the Telegraph says Brexit gives UK government an opportunity to carry out a complete overhaul of “the question of whether the state should perform any functions at all”.

Red lights are flashing

Truss’s refrain throughout the campaign has been that the UK has £30billion of room to maneuver in public finances and that spending the money on tax cuts will boost growth quickly. These forecasts, however, were made in March – since then the economic outlook has changed dramatically.

Truss’ colleagues expect her to now push the Cabinet and civil servants to deliver what she promised in hopes of achieving a scaled-down version.

Nevertheless, many are already predicting that his ambitions will not survive the cold shock of reality that awaits him at 10 Downing Street.

The scale of the financial pressures households will face this winter means its support package will likely require spending cuts or increased borrowing.

In addition, it has to contend with a severely overstretched national health service, with waiting times for ambulances currently flying away alongside excessive deaths. Truss caused a stir this week by suggesting his solution would be to divert billions of pounds earmarked for dealing with NHS backlogs to social care, in a bid to free up hospital beds.

A Tory councilor at a major local authority said: ‘My personal problem is that she didn’t say what she was taking away. If you’re in an area like ours, which has suffered really badly from local government cuts, you’re well aware that there isn’t much else to cut.

The former cabinet minister quoted above said he assumed Truss would eventually have to step away from his current set of commitments.

A “sensible” government would pause some areas of planned spending, he predicted, while “just put it on the credit card and pass it on to our grandchildren and tell them they’ll have to pay for it.” , it is not a responsible solution”.

All eyes on the treasure

Truss will also face the rigors of the finance ministry, the former minister added. “Treasury will remind her, and she will see it in practice, that if you start going off on a completely dangerous tangent, the markets will intervene.”

If she were to pursue a radical course, Truss’ hand would be strengthened by choosing a chancellor willing to help her achieve her vision. Truss’ choice for Treasury is widely expected to be current Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. The couple have a long-standing affiliation as two of the newly elected Tory MPs who in 2010 co-wrote ‘Britannia Unchained’, a radical right-wing agenda to drive economic growth.

Henry Hill, deputy editor of the ConservativeHome website, observed: “Her best shot at getting stuff through the Treasury will be with a brand new chancellor she just appointed.

He added: ‘What will be interesting is that if we get to, say, six months and the whole dashboard flashes red lights, will the Chancellor stay with her – ride or die – with a plan the Treasury doesn’t like, or does he end up succumbing to the Treasury’s center of gravity?

All of the contributors who spoke to POLITICO for this article emphasized Truss’ longer-term commitment to increased infrastructure spending, as the most important post will most likely be sacrificed to secure service cuts. taxes, casting doubt on his promise to northern voters of better rail provisions.

If 2019 was the culmination of Johnson’s broad electoral coalition between traditional Tory voters in the south and pro-Brexit voters in northern cities, some MPs are now wondering if that alliance can possibly survive the competing demands on the cusp. to be imposed on the new Prime Minister.

It’s not until Truss begins to face these choices that the UK will know exactly what kind of prime minister he intends to be.

Eleni Courea contributed reporting.


Comments are closed.