So, is it time to sack Kwasi Kwarteng? This, we are told, is the view of a subset of panicking Tory MPs. The chancellor would thus serve as the sacrificial lamb, to be held up before the government’s suffering public – a public who are fearfully contemplating mortgage misery, the markets in meltdown and savage cuts to public services already stripped to the bone.
Pinning the blame on Kwarteng and booting him out, would – I suppose – allow for a replacement to be drafted in, someone with credibility who might be able to undo the worst of the millionaires’ mini-Budget and reassure the markets and everyone else that the government hasn’t completely lost the plot.
Attacking the subordinate as a means of damaging the leader, or more to the point, reigning them in when they’re going too far is an age-old political tactic. I’m just not sure why anyone would think it could work in this case. After all, whose budget was this? Kwarteng’s or Truss’s?
Well, they worked on it together. But it is quite clear that Truss had the final say. Kwarteng himself made clear at the outset that he saw his role not as the steward of the nation’s economic health and security but rather as Truss’s financial facilitator.
We’re told that these terrible twins nonetheless had their first spat when the mini-Budget went disastrously wrong. Kwarteng wanted to make a statement. Truss did not. With the markets in meltdown, the UK in the midst of a currency crisis, and the Bank of England launching flailing attempts to bring some stability to the situation, it strains credibility that Truss’s view was that the pair should continue to hide in the fridge Boris Johnson once used to try and evade a marauding press pack.
Kwarteng making a statement – and performing a small U-turn by allowing the frozen out Office for Budgetary Responsibility to deliver a verdict on his “fiscal event”, after all – was about the only decision the new government has got right in this whole sorry affair.
To be clear, the statement was wholly inadequate. It will be another two months before we hear from the OBR. The Bank of England has since had to intervene in the bond markets; buying government IOUs in a bid to prop up pension funds which were facing destruction through the government’s recklessness.
Interest rates are still poised to soar, potentially inflicting the same sort of financial pain to mortgage holders as the energy price shock was going to cause before Truss intervened. But it did, at least, hand the grown ups a seat at the table and hinted that the government hadn’t lost all its marbles – just most of them.
Truss proved that this morning, having emerged from her borrowed fridge to speak to a bevy of BBC local radio stations. If she thought that would be easier than dealing with the national media, she was in for a nasty shock.
BBC local radio presenters often have a far better line on what the country is thinking than do their national colleagues, who spend their lives in the Westminster bubble. Incredibly, when facing questions on the fairness of granting millionaires tax cuts while ordinary people struggle, Truss actually responded with “it’s not fair to have a recession”.
Truss is not stupid. It is silly, and not a little sexist, to say that as one or two people did during her leadership campaign. All the same, that was an astonishingly, mind-bogglingly stupid statement to make when it is patently obvious that it is her government’s actions that are tipping Britain into the “unfair” recession she claims to want to avoid.
Here was the real architect of Britain’s budgetary disaster speaking. Here was the person who should be sacked. Yet we risk two more years of her unparalleled appetite for destruction.
Truss is emerging as Britain’s Cersei Lannister, a blinkered ideologue doggedly pursuing a senselessly destructive course, without a mandate to do so, because “I’m the queen”. The mini-budget was her chopping Missandei’s head off with a fire-breathing dragon at the gates of King’s Landing, ready to wreak bloody vengeance, exactly as the markets have done to the cost of us all.
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The trainwreck interviews in which Truss doggedly stuck to her gummed up guns, promising to persist with quite the maddest actions by a government I have seen in nearly 30 years of journalism, proved it.
Quite how sacking Kwarteng would change anything is beyond me. It would be like firing the waiter after the chef has delivered a plate full of undercooked chicken and burnt vegetables.
Here’s how today’s tragic Tory leaders seem to define themselves: “Hey, British people. You know you thought the last one was the worst PM in history? Well, you ain’t seen nothing yet. I can beat that. Just you wait and see.”
Truss’s crowning achievement has been to cement a legacy it took Boris Johnson months to secure, in a matter of days. If there are, among Tory MPs, people who still think patriotism is more than just a badge, they have to act before it gets really nasty and the damage proves irreversible. We might already be there.
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