Tuesday, 2 August 2022

Does Liz Truss Have a Death Wish?

Writing in the New Statesman last week, former Tory minister David Gauke argued the Conservatives were taking a gamble on Liz Truss's judgement. For an average Tory member, such a claim is the remainy project fear nonsense you might expect from a partisan of anti-Johnsonism. If your political compass points to the magnetic north of Brexit, her campaign was trudging in the right direction. Sorting out the Northern Ireland Protocol, check. Standing up for Britain on the world stage and regularly calling out Putin, check. And threatening to walk away from the European Court of Human Rights if it objects some more to the vile Rwanda transportation plan, also check. There's also the unfinished business of the Boris Johnson government. According to polling by Tory think tank Polling First, the public as a whole like those policies which, at any other time, could be loosely described as Labour policies. And on the main one, levelling up, Truss is chill with that and has talked about northern powerhouse rail and helping farmers grow food. What was Gauke worried about? Everything was ticking over fine and dandy.

Oh dear. On Tuesday morning, The Indy splashed with Truss's plan to level down pay in the public sector. Briefed out by her press team, the plan wasn't a simple "you're all going to get pay cuts". It was a sneaky scheme to try and divide workers into two tiers. Starting from some unspecified point, all new employees would automatically receive lower pay while older workers would stay on the existing set of pay grades. The "savings", which were projected to be some £8.8bn, would only get realised over decades. Not exactly a policy you can fund immediate corporation tax cuts from. It also came with some way off assumptions, such as no one noticing because it affects employees who aren't employees yet. And second, the staff unions would not be bothered because existing workers are protected. Unsurprisingly, they were very much bothered. This shows three things. Truss and her lackeys don't understand workers and their organisations, they don't understand basic tactics for waging war on groups of workers (a trait she shares with Grant Shapps), and she has poor judgement by not paying any attention to the wider politics. Gauke has been proved correct in double quick time.

The backlash wasn't pretty, with some Tory MPs far from keen. Quicker than Theresa May dumped her dementia tax manifesto pledge, Truss about turned and junked her policy - perhaps the first time a Tory leadership candidate has ever done so. Speaking to the BBC, Truss said the policy had been "misrepresented" and had no intention of lowering the pay of teachers and nurses. But the point was moot anyway because regional pay boards weren't going to happen. Digging into this a bit further, the word from Truss's backroom was that they were looking for the savings from trimming civil service pay, but when it was pointed out the staffing budget is nine billion, leaving just £200m left to run the state bureaucracy, the policy transmogrified and expanded to all public sector workers. Someone's hasty arse-covering over misspeaking left big egg on the Tory frontrunner's face and has meant the abandonment of one planned attack on workers.

And this brings us back to Gauke's worries. Undoubtedly, had Truss persisted the backlash would have destroyed her campaign. Interesting how candidates in Tory leadership elections tend toward hubris when they're in pole position. It demonstrates that when her intentions have been rumbled and there's no way out, she won't do a Boris Johnson and try styling it out or sticking to her guns come what may as per the Margaret Thatcher of myth. This is useful to know. Truss has also shown she's not only capable of unforced errors, but that she's easily as flat footed as Rish! Sunak. Being able to do folksy charm and getting a good laugh at the Tory hustings doesn't mean she's in touch with real life outside her cosy Westminster set.

In my profile of her written last December, I highlighted her self-confessed preference for instinct and impulsiveness over considered thought and reflection. With the trade unions moving, with Covid hanging around and the Monkey Pox threat growing, the economy slowing, with energy bills and oil and gas profits soaring, and a non-payment campaign starting to make waves, Truss's character, and the obvious amateurishness of her team are going to have a hard time coping. Which probably explains why the latest poll by Techne of Tory party members now puts Sunak on only five points behind. The regional pay debacle probably won't sink her campaign, but her absence of sense could easily wreck her premiership.

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1 comment:

Robert Dyson said...

"but her absence of sense could easily wreck her premiership", hopefully the Tories for a few years.