In this post, Andrew Allison, Chief Executive of The Freedom Association, looks back at Liz Truss's premiership, and highlights the challenges facing Rishi Sunak.
Commenting on Harold Macmillan's 'night of the long knives', Jeremy Thorpe said, "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his friends for his life". I was reminded of that famous line after Liz Truss fired Kwasi Kwarteng. She was the co-author of the mini-Budget he delivered just before the Labour Party Conference and therefore had ownership of it. Indeed, if a report in the Daily Mail is to be believed, the former Chancellor wanted to delay the abolition of the 45p tax rate, but Truss overruled him. Yet despite this, in an attempt to save her skin, she threw Kwarteng under a bus.
King Charles I signed the Earl of Strafford's death warrant in a bid to save himself. We know how that ended. In more recent times, Richard Nixon fired John Ehrlichman and H. R. Haldeman in a bid to save his skin. That didn't work, either. And it didn’t work for Truss who was forced to resign less than a week later. The final two nails in her political coffin were the resignation of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary and the chaotic scenes in the House of Commons during voting on an opposition motion on fracking.
All authority had drained away from Truss. The winning manifesto she stood on in the Conservative Party leadership race, which lasted most of the summer, had been torn up. Many were asking what the point of Liz Truss was. Enough Conservative MPs answered the question.
Kwarteng’s replacement, to everyone’s surprise, was Jeremy Hunt - the Sunak-supporting Remainer who praised China for its longer, harder lockdowns. He immediately started acting as His Majesty’s de facto Prime Minister. It was obvious that he was in charge of economic policy. The then First Lord of the Treasury had surrendered control to him.
Hunt announced that Corporation Tax will increase by a third next year. The 1p cut in the basic rate of income tax has been indefinitely delayed. IR35 reforms for the self-employed have been scrapped.
During her speech at the end of the Conservative Party Conference, Truss railed against the 'anti-growth coalition'. The main reason she has gone down as the shortest-serving Prime Minister in British history is because she surrendered to that coalition. Her demise was humiliating and brutal in equal measure.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph before Truss resigned, Matthew Lynn commented that "the dream of a low-tax, pro-enterprise Britain has now died for a generation. In its place, we face a suffocating consensus of constantly rising taxes imposed on a dwindling, shrivelled economic base."
He is correct.
As the Conservative Party is drinking the final drop of whisky in the last chance saloon, MPs have no option but to get behind Rishi Sunak. Many Conservative MPs are polishing their CVs, knowing that they are likely to lose their seats at the next general election, but if the party doesn’t get its act together, it could be looking at losses of around 200 seats. That would put the party out of power for at least two terms. As the saying goes, “When you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.” And the voters have (metaphorically) got many MPs by their balls.
The King’s new Prime Minister has a bulging in tray. During the Conservative Party Conference I was asked if I could name any successes in the last 12 years of Conservative and Conservative-led government. Brexit was mentioned, but that’s not true. Most Conservative MPs campaigned against Brexit. David Cameron and George Osborne were the architects of ‘Project Fear.’ Brexit was achieved by the coming together of ordinary people - people like us in The Freedom Association. If the Conservative Party had had its way, we would still be members of the European Union. Although many notable Conservatives were very much on our side during and after the referendum, Brexit was not an achievement of a Conservative Government.
Universal Credit was mentioned as a success. That’s debatable as it hasn’t been implemented in the way Iain Duncan-Smith envisaged. George Osborne made sure of that and Iain resigned because of it.
To be honest, I can’t remember what the third success my interlocutor came up with. But that rather sums it up. There is hardly anything to show for all those years in Government - at least not on the credit side. On the debit side, the list is long. I will, though, focus on four huge problems facing Sunak: the cost of living, immigration, crime, and health.
Getting through this coming winter is going to be a difficult task for many families. Although the Government has capped energy bills, they will still be much higher than they were last winter. Taxes are at a 70-year high. Is the Conservative Party still the party of low taxation? I would like to think so, but the evidence for the prosecution is damning. Sunak will not make the same mistakes as Truss, but increasing Corporation Tax is not going to make the UK’s economy more competitive. Taxing middle England until the pips squeak is not going to help us escape a long recession. I am willing to give him a break over the furlough scheme. I know that there were many abuses, but he didn’t really have any option but to present a generous scheme to compensate businesses and their employees after Prime Minister Johnson closed the economy. Inflation is high, and reducing it is a priority. But as I have already mentioned, to avoid a long recession we can’t have sky high taxes. “It’s the economy, stupid.” If voters are feeling the squeeze, the party of Government gets the blame, irrespective of what the views of the opposition parties are.
We live on an island. That should be an advantage when it comes to limiting illegal immigration. The opposite appears to be true. I really hope that Rishi Sunak grasps the nettle on this issue. In his speech before he entered Number 10 for the first time as Prime Minister, he promised “control of our borders.” Boris Johnson didn’t appear interested, and neither was Truss. Those making the hazardous journey across the English Channel are housed in hotels at taxpayers’ expense. Very few are deported. Meanwhile, British families, who work hard and pay their taxes, are deciding whether to eat or heat their homes.
According to Migration Watch, a record 1.1 million entry grants to live In the UK were granted in the year ending June 2022. One doesn’t have to be a genius to work out that this is unsustainable. Public services are already under huge pressure. Unless we get immigration (legal and illegal) under control, it’s going to get even worse.
The metropolitan metrosexuals may dismiss this as a fringe issue, but there is real anger across the country that we are not getting immigration under control. If he gets this right, Sunak could be on to a winner, particularly in so-called “red wall” seats.
If you are in the unfortunate position of having to call the police because your house has been burgled, the most likely outcome is that the criminals will not be apprehended. Only 6% of burglaries a year are solved by police across England and Wales - a pathetically low detection rate which almost gives carte blanche to criminals to keep calm and carry on. In the opening credits of the comedy series Porridge, Norman Stanley Fletcher was described “as an habitual criminal, who accepts arrest as an occupational hazard, and presumably accepts imprisonment in the same casual manner.” Today, ‘Fletch’ would never have been caught and would never have been sentenced to five years in Slade Prison. Although I have thankfully never been the victim of a burglary, to describe it as a “victimless crime” is insulting to those who may never feel safe in their homes again.
The list goes on and on. If your car is stolen, don’t expect to get it back - at least not in one piece. If someone steals your mobile phone, the crime will never be investigated. If Sunak can get on top of this thorny problem, he will start to restore trust in the Conservative Party being the party of law and order. It most certainly cannot make that claim now.
If you are critically ill, you will receive some of the best care in the world. But if you are in pain (and I have much experience of this), you will be put on a waiting list. An aunt of mine has been waiting for more than two years for a routine cataract operation. If you require a hip replacement, onto the waiting list you go. I am fortunate that my GP surgery is rather good at giving patients reasonably quick appointments. I know from talking to friends and listening to interviews on radio and television that many people across the country are not in as fortunate a position as me. Because the National Health Service became the National Covid Service, the backlogs in hospitals are never likely to be cleared.
I know that there aren’t any quick fixes, but I have heard that Sunak wants to reform the NHS. Yes, we have heard it all before, and we remember the botched Lansley reforms, but unless our bureaucratic healthcare system is properly reformed, nothing is going to change.
What we need now is a period of stability. I know that has become a hackneyed phrase, but there has been more turmoil this year than any of us thought possible. “Unprecedented” is an overused word, yet what we have witnessed this year (so far) has truly lived up to its meaning.
I wish Rishi Sunak all the luck in the world. He is not my ‘cup of tea’ politically, but he doesn’t strike me as being a nasty man. Some will blame him for Boris Johnson’s resignation. My opinion is that Johnson was already on borrowed time before Sunak resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer in July. Many committed Brexiteers had lost confidence in Johnson. But all of this is yesterday’s news and today’s fish and chip paper. I regarded Sunak as the continuity Treasury orthodoxy candidate during the summer’s leadership election campaign. I am not minded to change my opinion, but I really hope that I am wrong. The country is truly crying out of change. If he doesn’t deliver it, we will have Keir Starmer as Prime Minister and any meaningful Brexit benefits will either be reversed or will never happen at all. That would be a disaster and the thought of it should sober up those Conservative MPs sipping their last drop of whisky.