AS I SEE IT: TERRY MURDEN says Liz Truss cuts an isolated and unconvincing figure who will struggle to survive
In little more than a month Liz Truss has achieved a remarkable feat – uniting her party and the Opposition against her. Fresh from making the now-departed Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng the scapegoat of a bungled tax plan, she addressed the media looking less like the conviction politician she claims to be and more like someone who knows her own number is up.
She spoke to the media in Downing Street for eight minutes and it was clear that neither those in the audience – nor the markets – were convinced by her low tax, high growth mantra and her determination “to see us through the storm”.
Opening up to questions, she looked out across those gathered as if scanning a pick and mix stall and wondering what to choose. Eventually, having remembered who was there, she allowed just four questions, all of which were focused less on her plan, and more on her own future. The general theme was that having sacked a Chancellor whose mini-budget she co-authored then surely she should also fall on her sword. She gave the same robotic reply to each question.
The markets reacted negatively after her statement, suggesting they remain sceptical about what is not so much a ‘plan’ as an ever-changing and confusing set of policies. Ms Truss is trying to serve up the same meal, but with some of the key ingredients removed.
Businesses, investors and public sector services now share a continuing sense of bewilderment over where all this is taking us and will look to Jeremy Hunt – himself a committed tax-cutter and also a supporter of Rishi Sunak – to provide the answers that Mr Kwarteng was unable to deliver.
Dropping the corporation tax part of the mini-budget – which Mr Kwarteng apparently refused to do – shaves £18bn off government borrowing, but the remaining tax cuts still leave £25bn unfunded.
Ironically, the plan Mr Hunt will deliver now more closely resembles the policies on which Mr Sunak fought his leadership campaign, leaving a nasty feeling in the party that by abandoning some of the core features of her own campaign Ms Truss is in Downing Street on false pretences. Does that make her Rishi Sunak in disguise? If so, then why not ditch her and install the real thing?
She could have included a few concessions to her own policies, perhaps a phasing of the corporation tax rise, or some new help for small businesses. That might have allowed her to salvage some pride and justify her claim that her ambitions remain intact. Instead, the statement came across as a little more than an admission of failure; a major u-turn on the mini-budget. The notion of a low-tax Britain now looks little more than a pipedream.
Mr Hunt is also a divisive character, with a questionable record at health. He now has to defend his new boss whose reputation in the party has sunk to miserable levels.
Ms Truss won the leadership vote across the Conservative Party’s membership, but only won support from 50 MPs. Many of her backbenchers are already campaigning to have her removed as a last chance to hang on to their seats. Far from bringing some stability, the next round of uncertainty has only just begun.
Terry Murden held senior positions at The Sunday Times, The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and The Northern Echo and is now editor of Daily Business