How successful can Truss be with her lofty goals, confrontational style and methods at a time when British society is at the start of a deep economic crisis?
Liz Truss, Britain’s new Prime Minister, faces a mountain of challenges that could be a Herculean task for any leader to overcome. The population is groaning under rising energy prices and inflation is in double digits. And according to forecasts, the country risks sinking into a recession. Added to this are foreign policy challenges, such as post-Brexit complications, the war in Ukraine and relations with China. It might be too much to handle.
After the tumultuous years of Boris Johnson, one would have hoped that Britain would take a breather, regain optimism after years of uncertainty. But the reality is different as Britain faces a dire situation on several fronts. Although Truss has mentioned his intention to make the country a “nation with big goals”, it is currently more likely that Truss will not even survive the political winter. A divided parliament (including among the Conservatives) is just one of its various challenges.
Truss is the first Prime Minister with the support of a majority of members of her party but not a majority of Conservative MPs, with whom she must now govern. Many preferred Rishi Sunak and only changed sides in the last two months as it became increasingly clear that she would win the members’ vote. However, this form of opportunism could quickly become a boomerang because it does not imply true loyalty.
Then there is the economic situation. Household energy prices will almost double by October 1 and are expected to increase further and even triple in early 2023.
Millions of UK consumers in the lower to middle income brackets can no longer afford these prices. Around 12million Britons are estimated to be likely to fall into so-called ‘fuel poverty’ over the next few months while also facing rising food prices that continue to put pressure on low-income Britons .
Although Truss has previously announced plans to counter this with caps, the extra spending will still clearly be felt. Due to costly Covid aid programs during the pandemic, Britain’s ability to soften the blow to its people has diminished significantly.
Meanwhile, Truss’ vision of restarting the UK economy via a trickle-down economy is seen as skeptical by various economists. The latter is particularly worrying, as inflation in the country is currently around 10%, driven by energy costs, and could soar as high as 18%, according to Bank of England projections.
How will it ease the burden on citizens? What is the leeway for tax cuts? And how to finance the promise to increase the defense budget from 2 to 3% of gross domestic product? The national deficit has already ballooned under Johnson. The prospect of even more frivolous debt policy and hints of regulatory intervention in monetary policy are already viewed with concern in financial markets. The financing of the Truss promises is in question, especially since the era of negative interest rates is over. They are also likely to exacerbate high inflation; strong finances and stable prices were always at the heart of Truss’s great model, Margaret Thatcher.
Another pressing national topic remains migration. Truss would like to continue the migration policy of the Johnson government, which seeks to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. To facilitate this, Britain could leave the European Convention on Human Rights because the aforementioned plans violate the convention. Withdrawing from the convention is a step that only Putin’s Russia has taken so far.
However, Truss’ intentions seem clear, given that she has appointed Suella Braverman as Home Secretary. Braverman, who is part of the Conservative Party wing, supports the UK’s withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights and the sending of cross-Channel migrants to Rwanda.
Internationally, British support for Ukraine by supplying arms and training Ukrainian soldiers will continue. Truss will also continue to support Ukraine diplomatically, as it has taken an extremely resolute line towards Russia.
It is to be expected that, like Johnson, she will seek to establish close relations and cooperation on security policy with the Baltic and Scandinavian states and Poland. Due to their historical experience and geographical location, all countries take the Russian threat as seriously as they do.
Truss should also clearly differentiate itself from China. According to reports, his government is considering officially classifying China as a national security risk, just like Russia. In doing so, she envisions an apparent shift within the Conservative Party. A few years ago, China was considered one of the most important partners.
But that changed after the pandemic, the crackdown on protests in Hong Kong and the boycott of human rights abuses against Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Meanwhile, conservatives almost unanimously see China as a threat. Many support the idea of decoupling, the dissolution of mutual economic ties. Truss could become the prime minister to make that happen. The timing, however, arguably couldn’t be worse given the financial dilemma.
And then there is Brussels. Truss made a name for herself as a tough Brexit negotiator and authored the North Island Protocol Bill. This means that further controversies with the EU are inevitable. From the EU’s point of view, the latter represents a violation of international law. In the worst case, the EU and Britain could become entangled in a trade war.
Can Britain afford an economic war with its biggest trading partner right now? The answer is clearly no.
Looking ahead to the next general elections, scheduled for no later than 2024, all of these conditions are deplorable for Truss and his party. Labor leads the polls with an eight percentage point lead over the Tories.
So how successful can Truss be with her lofty goals, confrontational style and methods at a time when British society is at the start of a deep economic crisis? Wintering in the country while surviving politically would be a start, but it is certainly not a given.
Disclaimer: The views expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, views and editorial policies of TRT World.
We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please email them to email@example.com
Source: World TRT