Politics Explained

Government splits are starting to emerge – and they’re only going to get worse

No 10’s public backing for Kwarteng in the row with the Treasury is evidence of an increasing Team Boris/Team Rishi divide, which – for a government without a lot of money to spend – will only deepen, writes Sean O’Grady

Tuesday 12 October 2021 21:30
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<p>The tensions – part personal, part ideological – between the leading members of the government are becoming visible to the public</p>

The tensions – part personal, part ideological – between the leading members of the government are becoming visible to the public

Just like real wars, Whitehall briefing wars come with varying degrees of intensity. Usually it’s just a few hand grenades lobbed over the departmental wall: an anonymous disparaging remark about the disputed genesis of some unworkable policy, or the prospects of a beleaguered colleague in a looming ministerial reshuffle, say. The conflict between the Treasury and the business department has escalated with remarkable speed.

Well within 45 minutes of the end of business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng’s appearance on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, allies of the chancellor had launched weapons of mass destruction at Kwarteng, telling the rolling news broadcasters that the poor chap was making it up as he went along. Hunkering down in his bunker, Kwarteng fired back, but the Treasury went nuclear, accusing Kwarteng of “sauntering in” to a meeting without having done his paperwork (sounds familiar).

Coming under such heavy Treasury bombardment, Kwarteng felt the need to call in a close political ally, and so the hotline to Marbella was activated. No 10 soon let it be known that Boris Johnson was on Kwarteng’s side, and that Rishi Sunak would “have to back down”. Heavy industry, begging for help over escalating energy bills, will get financial assistance. Or at least that’s the line for today.

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