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Ifs, Buts … Maybes?


A lot of them around these days. Is the human race about to follow the dinosaurs into oblivion? Are our homes going to turn cold and dark for hours on end this winter? Is the government about to implode? As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, the coming week will at least hold a clue about Liz Truss’s survival prospects.

Handy tip for would-be authors – always stick with stuff you know. Works for politicians too.

Which is how come Truss did ok in her Tory conference address to the party faithful. It was after all these people who voted her in.

But with parliament back in action the game is on. And, after pressure from her own side forced U-turns, the language has turned lurid.

‘They say of lions in the wild that once they’ve had a taste of human flesh they keep eating humans,’ said one former Cabinet minister.

‘Well, the 2019 intake has had its taste of human flesh.’

Another added simply: ‘There is blood in the water.’

Bear in mind two-thirds of Tory MPs did not want her to lead them. Also worth remembering their numbers have been whittled down.

Boris Johnson’s ostentatiously large majority of eighty has since fallen victim to by-elections and sackings.

Conor burns, the minister fired for allegedly misbehaving at the conference, is just the latest. Meaning the government’s now only got around seventy more MPs than other parties.

So it’d only take something in the mid-thirties to join the other side on any controversial vote to kill off a bit of legislation.

And the list of dissidents on the Tory back benches is wide-ranging and long.

There are those who think she’s either too right wing or not right wing enough.

Then there’s the caucus that would have preferred Rishi Sunak. And another group bewailing Johnson’s demise.

Plus there are those representing traditionally Labour areas who only got in thanks to the Boris bounce. And could just as easily be got out.

Factor in the stark reality of pretty well all the polling evidence that puts Labour on course for handsome victory.

Largely, it has to be said, because Liz Truss is so not flavour of the month.

YouGov has found just fourteen per cent of voters think she’s cool, while three-quarters of them don’t.

This makes her even less loved than Johnson when the partygate scandal marked him out as a very naughty boy.

Upshot? Many Conservative MPs, terrified for their own jobs, believe they’ve nothing to lose by defying their leader.

Truss glibly grouped them all together in her conference speech as an ‘anti-growth coalition,’ but she couldn’t have been more wrong.

Of course they all want the economy to show signs of growing by the next election, which they hope can be held off for a couple of years.

Their problem being that if these so-called green shoots haven’t popped their little heads up by then they’ll all be trampled underfoot.

The point is that the promised tax cuts are to be paid for, if not by the growth which may or may not happen, then by borrowing.

Put simply, Truss has spent her pocket money before mummy’s given it to her. Risky, to say the least.

Which is why international credit agencies have either downgraded the British economy, or are at least thinking about it.

Trust in Truss was seriously eroded by her botched budget thingy. Witness the near panic it sparked on the money markets.

Though things later largely settled down again, thanks to the Bank of England playing the grown-up, what followed didn’t help.

She did finally give up on what was almost universally derided as her politically suicidal attempt to make the rich richer.

But this crack at cutting the top rate of tax for the highest earners came alongside her planned real-terms cuts to benefits.

The next flashpoint, surely – as linking this lifeline not to inflation but to the lower measure of wage rises can’t fail to make the poor poorer.

It was easy enough convincing comfortably off Tory members in her leadership campaign that it’d be all right on the night.

Less so getting the other ninety-nine per cent of the population to buy it.

Her antidote to all this poison thus far has been to big up the immense support package to hold down people’s energy bills.

And she’s probably genuinely mystified that that seems to have been bankrolled already in the public mind.

But the announcement was trailed very early on, and she’ll take little comfort from a line in Shakespeare’s play Troilus and Cressida.

‘Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back, wherein he puts alms for oblivion. A great-sized monster of ingratitudes.’

That great-sized bung probably won’t do much either for millions of folk if they really do face three-hour power cuts this winter.

Though the National Grid stressed this is a worst-case scenario, you’d think the government might suggest we don’t fritter away the watts.

The Business Secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg, certainly seems to have thought so.

But it’s said Number Ten didn’t, apparently vetoing a publicity drive on the grounds it’s wrong to interfere.

Which feels like an echo of Boris Johnson’s reluctance, as the Covid crisis took hold, to lock the country down.

If it had been imposed sooner, more lives would have been saved.

But the moving finger’s writ and all that. Vladimir Putin’s replaced the virus as Public Enemy Number One.

Possible energy shortages are all part of his lovely legacy, as are jitters the world over, concerning his threats to vaporise the lot of us.

Little wonder he’s getting desperate now that Ukrainians are clawing back more and more territory he stole from them.

While his front line continues to disintegrate it’s thought the attackers have become the defenders’ biggest weapons supplier.

Tanks, howitzers, guns. And the rest. ‘We’ve got so many trophies that we don’t even know what to do with them,’ said one commander.

So, says President Biden, Putin’s nuclear sabre-rattling must be taken seriously.

But others suggest his own generals might take him out rather than press the red buttons.

If for no other reason all it would need would be for the wind to change for radiation clouds to rub Russia out. Or at least chunks of it.

As the susurrus of speculation about how long the vile dictator can survive gets ever louder, he may be quoting Wilkins Micawber.

‘Something will turn up.’

In her obviously hugely less dramatic way, Liz Truss could yet also find herself feeling as cornered as Charles Dickens’ famous character.

But you never know. Cash in the attic can come in spectacularly large packages.

Last week a French lady put up for auction a Chinese vase her granny picked up years ago in Paris.

Rather pretty actually, all blue and white porcelain, covered in enamel and decorated with nice little dragons and clouds.

But still, nothing like old enough to be worth much. ‘Quite ordinary,’ according to the valuers, who thought it’d fetch less than two grand.

Imagine their surprise then at the response to its catalogue entry. And astonishment when the bidding got seriously ferocious.

The hammer finally came down on – wait for it – seven million pounds.

Funny thing is, the suddenly ridiculously rich seller hadn’t even seen the thing.

Safe to say, though, she liked the look of the cheque.


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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