Tuesday 6 September 2022

The Artless Politics of Liz Truss's Cabinet

As I write, Liz Truss is appointing a parade of horrors to her cabinet. Suella Braverman replaces Priti Patel at the Home Office. Dominic Raab is out and Therese Coffey is in as Deputy Prime Minister and Health Secretary. Nadhim Zahawi's tenure as chancellor is over as Kwasi Kwarteng swoops in, and James Cleverly takes on the Foreign Secretary brief. More jobs will be doled out in the coming days. But what's more interesting is who's out. Raab, obviously. Grant Shapps's stupid strikes plan couldn't save his neck. Johnson loyalist Steve Barclay is out, defector-from-camp-Sunak George Eustice found his turncoatery rewarded with the sack. Patel wasn't invited back, and Michael Gove - gleefully chucked by Johnson - remains a brooding menace on the backbenches. Naturally, Rish! Sunak didn't make the cut.

In the main, the defenestrated and dejected have greeted their sidelining with official politesse. Barclay wished the new Prime Minister "every success for the future" and Shapps will concentrate on being a "strong independent voice". Or should that be voices? Someone who didn't get the chummy air kisses message was Jonny Mercer. After getting fired from his bag carrying for veterans job, Mercer said he'd be concentrating on his family in a letter that read like a resignation without actually saying the magic words 'I resign'. An unwelcome inconvenience from the kind of Tory Truss could easily have kept on side. Another emerging issue is Northern Ireland. That is, no one wants it. Truss has hawked it to her fallen rival, Penny Mordaunt, but she's said no and landed Leader of the House instead. Sajid Javid is a negative too - a man accustomed to saying yes to almost anything. As no one's biting her hand off for it, that suggests her authority isn't what it might be.

And that is indeed the case. She didn't get more than half of the MPs, and won the lowest share of the shrinking membership of any Tory leader, sharing with Iain Duncan Smith the distinction of not winning the backing of an absolute majority of party members. All this could change, depending on what her energy price announcement on Thursday is going to be and whether the public buy it. But the persistent and frequently circulating rumours that immediate relief is paid for by larger bills over the next couple of decades are more likely to meet begrudging acceptance than the appreciation Sunak's Covid support schemes received. Even if everything goes swell and she's cheered to the rafters, appointing a cabinet of satraps, lackeys, and the BNP adjacent is a foolhardy gambit.

I don't know if Truss has read Thatcher's Downing Street Years. If she has, nothing has gone in. Her celebrated predecessor counselled that a cabinet has to balance the trends and factions in the party to best manage parliamentary discipline. Truss is acting as if she entered Downing Street on a litter. Even Boris Johnson at the height of his powers appointed a top team that was relatively balanced and reflected a spectrum of Brexity opinion. Truss has noted who her support was and is rewarding them to the exclusion of all else, meaning when things get sticky those backbench big beasts are going to get tricky. She has not given them a stake in the government's success, so what incentives do they have? Stay quiet for the sake of party unity? Electoral expediency? Or, if a lucrative outside opportunity knocks, what's going to stop them from causing a painful by-election? Vibes?

Liz Truss is a political clod hopper. She gaffes like Johnson, but without his faux bumbling to cover for it. And her cabinet appointees don't just show she doesn't understand politics, she has a poor handle on the party. In the now infamous Laura Kuenssberg interview last Sunday, she said she didn't like to predict the future. Perhaps not, but one doesn't need a scrying pool to see the world of pain she's striding towards.


mikenotts said...

"Truss is acting as if she entered Downing Street on a litter" - excellent: laugh out loud funny and sums it up perfectly.

Anonymous said...

On one level it would be pleasant to assume that you are correct, and that the Conservative Party is a divided wreck which will show itself incapable of governing.

On another level, however, consider the damage which this could do to Britain and to Europe.

And what happens if Labour manages to lose against Truss in the next election? How far down does the race to the bottom lead?

Anonymous said...

Let's hope she goes out of Downing street with the litter.

Zoltan Jorovic said...

My trust in the common sense of my fellow citizens evaporated long ago, and was killed off utterly by the referendum result. What Truss needs to do is ensure that people aren't hit with massive energy bills, that food and petrol remain affordable and available. The media will spin the rest.

So what if we all end up paying off the bank loans to energy suppliers for the next 20 years? That'll be hailed as a stroke of genius. And if the NHS continues its slow motion collapse? So long as most people aren't directly impacted, that can be blamed on bureaucrats, foreigners, slackers, greedy doctors and unrealistic expectations - "you mean you expect to live longer with the diet you have?" or "a heart attack is nature's way of telling you your dead, and the ambulance taking 8 hours was just a kindness really".

Every failure will be used to justify more cuts, more privatisation and more vulture capitalism. Our noble press will tell us that everything we thought we knew was wrong, and that all our troubles are the result of too much state interference. too many idlers and scroungers, and people's sense of entitlement to a home, food and basic healthcare was the cause of the problem. It was this socialist irresponsibility that was holding us back from a bright future of unregulated, unrestricted entrepreneurial adventure which would bring general prosperity - except to the undeserving malingerers and obstinate obstructionists. Even as everything crumbles around us we will be told how marvellous it all is becoming under our enlightened new leader, the blessed Liz.

Old Trot said...

Lots of grim, gallows humour, laughs guaranteed from the Ayn Randist hardcore shitshow of a PM Truss and her Cabinet is assuredly to come. But what a political state we are collectively in, as inflation rockets, and the NHS collapses (now under the untender care of the sociopath, and reputed serial drunk, Therese Coffey!) And the now completely retaken by the careerist Right, Labour Party is NOWHERE as a useful political vehicle of resistance. In fact, if the leaks to The Times about Truss's extraordinary plans to subsidise energy costs to consumers by up to £130bn are true (just adding it to the National Debt !) , then those pathetic austerity-inclined 'budget balancers' of Starmer/Mandelsons NuLabour, have been outflanked by the Tories on spending yet again ! And do any of us really think the TUC/trades union bureaucracy will stay the course in using the required prolonged mass strike weapon to protect the rest of us from this Party and government of absolute ideologues and rogues ? I don't .

Robert Dyson said...

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall ..............
Falling Down.
Let's hope that all the King's horses and all the King's men cannot put the Tories together again.
Starmer also has not included all factions of the Party.

A.M.K. said...

It is interesting that although the Conservative Party has been able to rely on winning the largest number of seats in the Commons over the last twelve years, it has been totally incapable of sustaining a coherent government, which suggests that something is awry in their case with the broad "coalition" which the 3 main all-UK parties consist of. Even with a big majority Johnson hasn't been able to do it. Of course he began with a stiff purge of pro-EU-membership MPs, which narrowed his base up to a point but also prompted constituency parties to deselect people from that disfavoured wing of the party, so making the Parliamentary party more homogeneous. Up to a point the divisions Phil and Blissex mention in the link in this post on far/hard right tendencies may map onto this incoherence. But the sheer difficulty they all seem to have in formulating the actual problem of the crisis to themselves, and in recognising its scale - which both lead to a growth in magical thinking - are perhaps inhibiting the formulation of a sufficiently consensual policy. The more detached from reality your policy preferences become the more difficult it will be to negotiate about them with differently-minded colleagues, even if they share many values.

Blissex said...

«totally incapable of sustaining a coherent government [...] Even with a big majority Johnson hasn't been able to do it.»

There have been some uncertainties and mistakes on the way, but my impression is that the Johnson administration, like those since 2010 (and arguably since 1979, but for the Major and Brown property crashes), have been highly effective and consistent, and have delivered reliably and competently what their sponsors and voters want, which is rising living standards for themselves (and incidentally Brexit and vaccinations) and "austerity" for everybody else. From that point of view the Johnson administration has been quite successful.

It is common among people who have an "idealistic" view of politics, or are mischievous, to describe their opponents as dumb and ineffective, but I think that is not very useful as to describing the situation to change it.

«awry in their case with the broad "coalition" which the 3 main all-UK parties consist of [...] Of course he began with a stiff purge of pro-EU-membership MPs»

Currently the Conservatives are mostly a coalition of finance and property interests and of nationalists. There are still industrial interests and globalist interests represented in the party, but not so much among membership and voters, which have well defined priorities. One of the most notable is that in 2017 and 2019 the 30-35% of Conservative voters who were "Remainers" still voted for hard brexit with May and Johnson because their main priority was property.

As to the LibDems, the kennedian/SDP faction has in effect evaporated, and the LibDems are today almost purely ("woke" globalist) thatcherite.

As our blogger keeps pointing out instead New Labour has not purified itself and contains still among the members and voters a lot of non-thatcherites ("trots"), but Starmer and the Mandelson Tendency are getting rid of them, when they don't auto-expel themselves

«But the sheer difficulty they all seem to have in formulating the actual problem of the crisis to themselves, and in recognising its scale - which both lead to a growth in magical thinking»

Which crisis, which magical thinking? For tory voters the past 10 years, and indeed the past 40 years, their economy has been booming, and their politics has been winning. For them thatcherism, in particular nationalist thatcherism, is not at all in crisis.

This has been mainly achieved through ever ballooning debt and harsh upward redistribution, so eventually the circle of tory prosperity will have to shrink substantially (my long term view is that most of the south-east will go the way of "the north" and only the M25 area, "Dubai-on-Thames", will be sustainable), but that's not something that many "Blow you! I am alright Jack", "Apres mois le deluge" voters care about.