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Crisis, What Crisis?

, What Crisis Of course it’s always possible the British economy’s set to power ahead, making us all better off and guaranteeing a landslide election victory in a couple of years for Liz Truss. It’s what she purports to believe. But, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, that puts her in a very tiny minority.

Interesting fact about a certain tabloid headline of January 1979. The doomed Labour Prime Minister Callaghan didn’t in fact say the words that finished him off.

Looking nicely suntanned on his way back from a summit in the Caribbean, he insisted the so-called Winter of Discontent did not add up to mounting chaos.

Which is why the Sun sub’s neatly cheeky upsum, that he couldn’t see the problem, has gone down in political folklore as Sunny Jim’s self-penned suicide note.

Then, as now, the economy was in a frightful mess. Then, as now, the government was in a right tizz. Even though it was, and is, trying to deny it.

Which is why that famous/infamous headline ‘crisis, what crisis?’ said it all. Then, as now.

Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s unscheduled and unceremonious dash back from a high-powered conference in Washington stated the obvious.

He was toast. The second shortest-serving holder of the office in history. The bloke who still holds the record died, so can hardly be blamed for that.

Potentially good news for the nation – it might yet help calm the money markets.

Certainly the new man in Number Eleven, former cabinet minister Jeremy Hunt, is making all the right, reassuring noises.

Basically, he’s been saying that Kwarteng’s intended budget is for the bin. Implication being, so is Truss’s entire economic vision.

Makes you wonder if she too is headed for the shredder then. Respected mainstream magazine The Economist gave her the shelf life of a lettuce.

In the fifty years this correspondent’s been kicking around Westminster, nothing like this has ever happened.

However turbulent the times, new Prime Ministers have, albeit sometimes a short one, a honeymoon period with their parties.

Truss, by contrast, is in the unenviable position of watching her political spouse heading from the altar to the lawyer. To file for divorce.

There may be a tinge of hysteria in newspaper speculation about her MPs ganging up to replace her right away with her rival in the leadership race.

But the suggestion that former Chancellor Rishi Sunak would be a safer choice has traction. Especially on a twin ticket with fellow also-ran Penny Mordaunt.

It could be fear of just that, that drove Truss to giving Kwarteng’s job to Hunt, who was after all a prominent Sunak backer.

Certainly it was a complete reversal of her hitherto transparently partial way of promoting her own supporters.

Also, confirmation that when Hunt presents parliament with his calculations at the end of the month they’ll signal an almighty shift in direction.

The hastily announced reversal of the policy of ditching a planned corporation tax hike, a biggie in both money and political terms, is clearly just for starters.

And proof that the brave face Truss is trying to put on things can’t mask the reality. A fit of the collywobbles? And the rest …

Tory in-house rules say she’s protected from a leadership challenge for a year. But so was Boris Johnson – and look what happened to him. Ahem.

The 1922 Committee leaders, the so-called Men In Grey Suits, are free to ditch protocol if there seems to be a ‘groundswell of support’ for chucking out the leader.

Half the cabinet resigning rather made that point in Johnson’s case.

And to describe the current mood as mutinous on the Tory backbenches is like saying Mount Everest is a dear little hillock.

Odd fit though it may be to put the words ‘Liz Truss’ and ‘charm offensive’ in the same sentence, she has been giving it a try.

In response, some of the humour from Conservative MPs after her first go at it, addressing them them all in the commons, was darkly and deliberately offensive.

One of them was minded to quote the blackguard Blackadder, in the TV series satirising British military leaders’ incompetence in the First World War.

This guy’s idea of Field Marshal Haig’s necessary next steps to boost morale in the trenches was: ‘Immediate resignation and suicide.’

And just as the orficers with their shiny boots and buckles back at HQ weren’t the ones dying on the battlefield, it’s Tory MPs – not the PM – risking extinction.

Friday’s YouGov poll for The Times gave Labour a twenty-eight per cent lead. Making Conservative backbenchers an endangered species.

Oh and btw, the survey also showed that almost half the party’s supporters believe Truss was the wrong choice as leader, and should be chucked out soonest.

In the end though, the verdict lies not with plaintive wails in Westminster but twangy braces in The City.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies, a think tank whose thoughts are taken seriously by just about everyone, put its finger on the Treasury’s problem last week.

It said the now notorious mini-budget from the now former Chancellor left such a gaping hole in the nation’s pocket that taxes must go up, not down.

What’s more, tinkering with Whitehall’s costs wouldn’t help. The sixty-two billion pound shortfall would inevitably mean vicious cuts to public spending.

This came in tandem with the take from the world’s lender of last resort, the International Monetary Fund.

It said the Bank of England and the Treasury are: ‘Like two people trying to steer a car in different directions.’

And Henry Hill, who as deputy editor of the right-wing blog ConservativeHome is hardly a raving commie, put it bluntly, if glumly.

‘Beneath the dismay is a growing suspicion that there simply isn’t a viable Truss project at all.’

Hear hear, hordes of Tory MPs are saying. So how long Truss remains in post is anyone’s guess.

RIP XPM? But there can be consolation prizes.

Tony Blair’s wealth is legendary. Some say he’s worth fifty million. Even Theresa May, not noted for her performance skills, has a bank balance in six figures.

As for Boris, cop this. He picked up more than double his annual prime ministerial salary in one evening last week.

After a few words and nice little ‘fireside chat’ about this and that, at an insurance brokers’ shindig in Colorado, he was more than three-hundred grand better off.

Nice work if you can get it.

Has to be said, whether you love him or hate him, he is a cracking speaker, whereas even her most devoted supporters wouldn’t say the same of Liz Truss.

Her anything but despatch box bravura was topped by her bye-bye Kwasi press conference on Friday, which was so bad it was almost good.

And who knows how she might one day turn all this to her advantage?

An artist known as Ai-Da managed to wow the fans at a House of Lords committee last week by talking about how she manages such good work.

Her relatively stilted delivery could in some ways be compared with Truss’s, that her detractors unkindly suggest is robotic.

The difference being the Lords outing was essentially a demonstration of how close science fiction and reality are to converging.

Yup, you guessed it. Ai-Da actually is … a robot.

Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.


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