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A very British coup

With the biggest economic crisis in living memory looming over Britain, Dagenham Liz has decided – or more likely was coerced – to put the man who, by his own admission, left Britain wholly unprepared to cope with a pandemic in charge.  That’s right, our new rhyming slang Chancellor has blood on his hands even before winter kicks-in and the poor start succumbing to hunger and hypothermia.  Worse still, it appears that – even without the fig leaf of a ballot of MPs, still less a vote of the party members or an even more necessary general election – Hunt is now the de facto Prime Minister, with Truss – assuming she doesn’t resign or isn’t sacked in the next few days – left as a mere puppet, taking her instructions from the fabled “men in grey suits” whose Machiavellian scheming takes place behind the curtains.

If I try really, really hard, I can even raise a nanoscopic hint of sympathy for Truss.  Because an unholy coalition of IMF, Bank of England and Government technocrats, aided and abetted by establishment media editors and disgruntled failed politicians, ought not to be allowed to force a sitting Prime Minister and Chancellor to reverse their economic policy.  In a democracy, that role is supposed to rest with the electorate.  And while it is convenient for opponents of the Tory government to align themselves with the forces of technocracy, they might want to consider first, that this is more or less what the technocracy attempted to do to Corbyn and McDonnell in 2016, and second, that the same would very likely be done to any Labour Prime Minister and Chancellor whose economic policies went against the increasingly extremist neoliberal orthodoxy.

I dare say we will wait in vain for a politician to be brave enough to call for an investigation into the role of the Governor of the Bank of England in forcing the sacking of the Chancellor.  Nevertheless, the Governor’s very public announcements of policy which would ordinarily have been activated in private, sounds for all the world akin to telling Truss, “Fire your Chancellor and reverse course or I will unleash the mother of all pensions crises.”

Whether the central bank should be bailing out pension funds, or even supporting the value of the pound at this point ought also to be a matter of policy.  Arguably, British electorates over four decades have voted consistently for policies which both undermine the value of the pound, and – particularly since 2008 – render most pension funds unsustainable.  In such circumstances, having the central bank use up foreign reserves and print currency in a – likely doomed – attempt to prevent further runs on the pound (which, among other things, devalues pensions) is likely to go the same way as it did on Black Wednesday three decades ago when speculators like George Soros roasted the government.

The crisis is now baked-in anyway.  The only question to be answered is how bad the losses are going to be.  The point is that a government attempting to ride out the crisis in order to reframe economic policy in a way which takes a realistic view of the UK’s – very weak – economic circumstances is no more unreasonable than assuming that it can carry on depleting essential foreign reserves and printing ever more funny money in an attempt to sustain a financialised economy which is no longer sustainable.

It is here though, that any sympathy for Truss evaporates.  Because, unlike Corbyn and McDonnell in 2016, Truss and Kwarteng were in government when they attempted to turn the clock back to 1979.  So that, not only is their third-rate Margaret Thatcher tribute act wholly out of step with today’s economic circumstances, but – more important in a democracy – it goes against the manifesto commitments that they were elected on in 2019.

Of course, Truss – if she were bright enough – might argue that after two years of lockdowns, broken global supply chains and blowback from energy sanctions on Russia, Britain is a very different place to what it was in 2019.  And as such, an entirely new policy platform is needed.  She may be right.  But if so, the only way in which this can be done legitimately is to follow Theresa May’s example in 2017 when, following resistance from her own backbenchers, she called – and promptly lost – a general election, standing on her own policy proposals.

Here though is where Truss’s own incompetent scheming removes all legitimacy from her.  Because she and Kwarteng knew full well that cutting taxes for the rich, funnelling huge bungs to energy companies, and leaving a massive hole in the government budget would crater their standing in the polls.  Not least because of the Tory Party’s obsession with using austerity cuts in an attempt to balance the books.  In other words, Truss attempted a coup of her own – forcing illegitimate and wrong-headed policy onto a party and a wider electorate that had neither voted for nor approved of it… one last binge for the hedge fund managers before the UK economy collapsed and the opposition parties were left to clear up the mess.

The Tory Party was likely facing a long period in opposition as a result of the antics of the previous Prime Minister.  But in just weeks, Truss seems to have plunged Tory fortunes to an all time low.  As Matthew Goodwin explained in a recent newsletter:

“There has been no honeymoon period, no bounce in the polls. For the first time in modern history we have a prime minister who has failed to inspire even an initial display of warmth from voters. And all the key indicators of how the prime minister and her government are performing are moving in the wrong direction…

“Between the week before Truss walked into Number 10 Downing Street and today, the Conservative Party’s average share of the vote has continued to slide from an already low 32 per cent to just 23 per cent…  In my own polling, conducted two days ago, I have Truss and her party on an even lower 19 per cent. This is lower than anything that was recorded during the mass resignations that culminated in Boris Johnson’s downfall or the Partygate scandal that preceded it. William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, Jeremy Corbyn never fell this low…

“Were these kinds of numbers replicated at an election then the Conservative Party would simply cease to exist in its current form. An entire generation of MPs — Theresa May, Jacob Rees-Mogg, David Davis, Sajid Javid, Andrea Leadsome, Penny Mordaunt, Iain Duncan Smith, Greg Hands, Grant Shapps, Kwasi Kwarteng, Therese Coffey, James Cleverly, among others — would be wiped out…”

Although, historically, party support has tended to return as a general election draws near, this is not a law of physics.  Indeed, there is every chance that Tory fortunes will sink even further.  Which is why – out of naked self-interest if nothing else – hundreds of MPs who risk being ousted at the next election, will want to be done with Truss sooner rather than later… but even the proposed “government of all the (lack of) talents,” wedded as it would be to the failed neoliberal orthodoxy, will be submerged by a global economic tsunami that is already visible.

As you made it to the end…

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