‘The lady is for turning’: So much for Liz Truss being the reincarnation of Margaret Thatcher

So much for the ‘plan for growth’. So much for Kwasi Kwarteng. And so much, indeed, for the Conservative Party

Sean O'Grady
Monday 03 October 2022 11:59 BST
Liz Truss must 'correct' mini-Budget mistakes, says Michael Gove

Rarely, outside of rallycross and supermarket car parks frequented by joyriders, can a U-turn have been executed so rapidly. The plan to ditch the 45p top rate of tax has been scrapped.

The emblem of the drive to make the British abandon their obsession with “fairness” is no more. So much for the “plan for growth”, then. So much for Kwasi Kwarteng. So much for Liz Truss being the reincarnation of Margaret Thatcher – “the lady’s not for turning”. So much, indeed, for the Conservative Party.

Only about 10 days ago, Kwarteng, in all his pomp as the new chancellor of the exchequer, declared that Britain was “entering a new economic era”. It was essential, he told parliament, that taxes be lowered in order to unleash the potential of the country.

Specifically, abolishing the top “additional” rate of tax on earnings above £150,000 would “simplify the tax system and make Britain more competitive; it will reward enterprise and work; it will incentivise growth; it will benefit the whole economy and whole country”.

The prime minister was equally bullish during her BBC interview with Laura Kuenssberg: she was asked if she’d drop the plan to help the rich, and she said no. Truss, in that patronising way of hers, explained that it was central to her project to “simplify and lower taxation”. Now, it isn’t. Now this most symbolic of the so-called “mini-Budget” measures is a mere “distraction”. Distractions never bothered Thatcher.

The Tories, their conference and their government now look chaotic, even by their own standards. We’ve had three chancellors in as many months – and may get another by the end of the year. Day one of the Tory conference, and it’s an omnishambles.

Somehow, Truss and Kwarteng have contrived to get the worst of all worlds. Tax cuts for the rich – paid for by cuts to social security payments for the poor – made the party look callous and divisive.

They might have turned that to their political advantage, as indeed they tried to for a while, stressing that wealth creation is more important than wealth distribution. Tough decisions were needed to reform growth and reward entrepreneurs, they said: growth trumps fairness.

But no longer? In making this U-turn, they simply look like they don’t know what they’re doing. There will be no thanks from the public, and their already dire poll ratings will suffer still further.

The Tories should now ask what Truss is for. Whatever reputation she had for being a potentially strong, Thatcheresque leader has been destroyed. She told her party she was ready to do “unpopular things”. She was going to “deliver”. She was supposed not to change her mind. She was supposed to be resolute, determined and brave: “In Liz We Trust”. Plainly she is not. She hasn’t a clue.

Faced with some criticism from the likes of Michael Gove and Grant Shapps, Truss has capitulated. She did not face her critics down. She gave in. Where was the defiance? Where was the threat to remove the whip?

All of a sudden we’re back to the kind of dither and delay Theresa May became notorious for – and the kind of speedy U-turns Boris Johnson was infamous for. Truss has received no credit for her initial policy, but also no thanks for scrapping it. The energy price guarantee, which was widely and warmly welcomed, has been contaminated and overshadowed. That’s quite a reverse political Midas touch.

Or, if you wish, why do ex-ministers such as Gove and Shapps feel free to attack their own new leader at her first conference? Why do they openly indicate they’ll vote against their own government’s budget? Why are so many MPs, like Rishi Sunak, sulkily staying away? Why is the chair of the party, Jake Berry, sent out on the offensive, threatening rebels that they’ll be chucked out of the party, only to have the rebels win and the rug pulled from under him within hours?

There must be splits within the cabinet itself – which wasn’t consulted about this toxic policy, or, indeed, about the U-turn. Why might the prime minister have told her chancellor to ditch the tax cut for the rich that she had previously approved? What has happened to the Conservative Party’s discipline? If they can’t run their own affairs, why should the Tories be given another five years to run the country?

To keep up to speed with all the latest opinions and comment sign up to our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter by clicking here

Now we know that Trussonomics is nonsense. The experiment has failed, and the dash for growth now abandoned before it even started. The tax cuts and “plan for growth” were supposed to attract international investment. The world’s bankers and fund managers were supposed to pile into pounds in the scramble to get on board the new dynamic Britain, pulsating with unleashed entrepreneurial energy. It was all about confidence.

Instead, the Kwarteng-Truss plan triggered a massive sell-off of gilts, and plunged the UK into an undeclared sovereign debt crisis. No one believed in the “plan for growth”. It literally did not add up. The pound plunged against the US dollar, and investors couldn’t get away from sterling assets fast enough. Pension funds discovered their principal safe asset, British government bonds, melting before their eyes, and the Bank of England had to step in with a £65bn rescue plan. The mortgage market descended into farce.

Now, the moment the mini-Budget is scrapped, the pound bounces against the dollar. Sadly, it seems unlikely that Truss and the Tories will bounce back against Keir Starmer and Labour in the opinion polls. By the end of the week, the party could be below 20 per cent in the polls, pointing to annihilation. The centrepiece of the prime minister’s policy has been abandoned. Soon, she too may be gone.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in