The embarrassing downfall of Liz Truss's disastrous premiership
By WILL KINGSTON-COX
Back in July, I described the events that culminated in Boris Johnson’s resignation as “unprecedented, extraordinary, and frankly, farcical”. Little did I think that, a mere few months later, I would find myself in the same position, having to describe the downfall of his successor. This is the last thing British politics needed but, alas, here we go again.
Just 44 days into the job, Liz Truss has tendered her resignation, plunging the United Kingdom once more into governmental crisis and political freefall. The shortest-serving prime minister in British history, Truss accepted on Thursday 20 October that “[she] cannot deliver the mandate on which [she] was elected.” Mandate is a strong word given it was provided to her by only 81,000 of the Tory Party faithful. Her demise is a painful reminder of how broken the Conservative Party is and how devoid we, as a nation, are of the stable, efficient governance we need to steady the storms we face.
It has been a cringeworthy, disquieting, and ultimately heartbreaking 44 days. Liz Truss’s ephemeral time in office has disturbingly demonstrated Britain’s inability to govern itself, at a time when it so desperately needs an effective administration. The only time her premiership could be considered somewhat successful was when politics was placed on hold for the national mourning of Queen Elizabeth II.
Sadly, it is now nigh on impossible not to take a pessimistic view of the direction of the country. So how did Liz Truss get us into such disarray?
Truss’s demise has been on the cards almost from the onset of her premiership. On 23 September, she and her former chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, presented the catastrophic ‘mini-budget’, which “shattered all hopes of Conservative economic cogency”. Trust in Trussonomics died no sooner than it had been unveiled. Not only did the main policy proposal of scrapping the 45 per cent higher tax rate demonstrate quite how out of touch her government was with the mood of the country, but it also shook the British economy to its core.
By 26 September, the pound had hit an all-time low against the dollar, reaching almost parity at $1.03. The following day, the International Monetary Fund released a rare, and somewhat awkward statement, in which they deemed her economic policies “likely [to] increase inequality [within the United Kingdom.]” Worse was yet to come.
On 29 September, 40 percent of mortgage deals were wiped from the UK financial market. Truss and Kwarteng stayed firm, reasserting their defence of the mini-budget as “decisive action” to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. Two days later, Truss issued an ignominious U-turn at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham. She would go on to throw Kwarteng under the bus, sacking him weeks later on 14 October. Truss and Kwarteng single handedly destroyed the Conservative’s reputation for “fiscal prudence and sound economic management.” The writing was appearing on the wall.
Moreover, the appointment of Jeremy Hunt as chancellor, who had backed Rishi Sunak in the summer leadership contest, further undermined the remnants of Truss’s authority. His U-turn on the majority of the mini-budget's tax cuts on 17 October had all but made the PMs resignation a fait accompli.
If the fallout of the mini-budget did not scream incompetence, the immediate buildup to Truss’s resignation sure did. The events of Wednesday 19 October were so chaotic I would argue that they superseded the extraordinary causation of Boris Johnson’s demise.
At 12pm on Wednesday, Liz Truss arrived in the House of Commons for only her third appearance as prime minister for PMQs. She was defiant, telling the House that she was “a fighter, not a quitter”. Sadly, any illusions of strength and grit were to be shattered.
By the afternoon, the home secretary, Suella Braverman, announced that she had quit after breaching the ministerial code. Her reasoning for resigning was that she had sent a policy document to a colleague via her personal email by ‘mistake’. Yet her scathing assessment of Truss’s leadership in her resignation letter leads one to assume that this was no mistake at all; but rather a part of a larger, calculated Tory plot to oust their new leader, just weeks into the job.
If that was not bad enough, the chaos turned into absurdity by Wednesday evening. Labour tabled an opposition day vote on fracking, which many Conservative MPs mistook for a confidence vote in the government. The result? Physicality, “jabbing” and “manhandling” by senior Tory MPs into the “no” lobby. There were reports that amongst those physically pressuring MPs to back the government were deputy PM Thérèse Coffey and business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Whilst some Tories had called for Truss’s resignation after Braverman quit, many more expressed their dissatisfaction after the ugly scenes in the lobbies. So appalling was the furore that Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, decided that Truss’s position was untenable and that she should resign.
The drama was not to end there. Reports soon emerged that Wendy Morton had been witnessed screaming that she was “no longer the Chief Whip”. Ruth Edwards, Conservative MP for Rushcliffe, approached Morton to seek clarity on the situation, in which she allegedly retorted: “I don’t have to talk to you, I’ve resigned”. Chris Whittaker, the deputy chief whip, was then reputed to have stormed out of the lobby in an expletive-laden rant. What a decadent debacle.
The scenes that culminated in Liz Truss’s resignation, and her crowning as Britain's shortest-serving prime minister, were self-indulgent, unbecoming and, quite frankly, embarrassing. Whilst millions of Britons are concerned about how to heat their homes or to pay their bills as the cost-of-living crisis continues to rampage through this country, the Conservative Party has, once more, imploded on itself when the country needs effective governance more than ever.
Truss's departure renders Britain paralysed as the Tories battle it out once more to find a new prime minister. At any time, such self-inflicted uncertainty, instability, and inefficacy are bound to corrode public trust in British politics. To do so when Britain faces a deluge of crises, not seen since the end of the Second World War, imbues a sense of contempt for an already beleaguered electorate.
Thus, it is wholly reasonable to assume the Conservatives will cling onto power until 2024, in order to prolong having to face the public at the ballot box. How many more prime ministers we will get through before that point remains to be seen.
For the sake of this country, we can only hope the next leader of the Conservative Party - likely Rishi Sunak - can unite its parliamentary body in government, implement meaningful and effective policies to counteract inflation, the cost-of-living crisis, and Russian belligerency on the continent, and to put to bed this wretched, unendurable period of precarious British politics.
Image: Flickr / Number 10