Having started this column in 2016, I’m now onto writing about the fourth Tory prime minister in a row, each one spectacularly less competent than their predecessor. Maybe it’s part of the job description. With Liz Truss we also see a move to a more ideological New Right approach to economics, although the way some journalists are banging on you’d be left thinking David Cameron was some form of social democrat. Capitalism has been nasty throughout the full term of this Tory government. It was nasty during the last Labour administration too. It will, no doubt, be nasty under Keir Starmer, should he ever be allowed to bore the nation on a daily basis with his brand of responsibility, integrity and “I’m working class, don’cha know” utter dullness.
I expected Liz Truss to lead to more spectacular politics and she has delivered earlier and more explosively than I imagined. The mini budget (wot wasn’t a budget but was actually a budget) sent shockwaves around the country as most of us wondered why the already very rich were getting lots more money. But it shocked more than just workers. It shocked the financial sector because it added a level of volatility to the market. Everyone was spooked by the fact that Liz Truss wasn’t actually lying during her leadership campaign. “Jesus”, people in the City of London were heard to exclaim, “she was telling the truth!” as they all started furiously pressing buttons in a frenzy of economic worry. Everyone reasonably thought she must just be saying things to get more votes. This was followed up later in the week by the Bank of England having to intervene with £65bn to rescue the country’s pension funds. Fears of a housing market collapse prompted mortgage lenders to pull more than 1.600 products from the market. All in a few days.
Then the shock spread internationally. The pound dropped against the US dollar. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) put out a statement criticising the UK and claiming it could lead to increased inequality. Nothing gets past this lot. But this is important. We have a new prime minister being criticised by the international body responsible for the smooth running of capitalism. We have a ruling class schism. Truss is hoping she can ride this out and change the paradigm, at least in this country. Maybe if she’s successful, it gets rolled out everywhere. It seems unlikely and it might just be us that are heading into some sort of neoliberal experiment.
The IMF is perhaps concerned that volatility in the markets could be followed by volatility on the streets. In August, I wrote about the Summer of Discontent lacking a spark. Liz Truss has just provided us all with very good reasons to be politically restless and angry. Increased strike activity, protests and civil disobedience are urgently required. People buoyed by the recent opinion poll results showing Starmer’s party with a ludicrous lead might feel happy to wait. While there is more than a possibility that Truss could lose the next general election, or even be kicked out by her party before it, we cannot rest and wait until Labour is in power.
Starmer had a good Labour Party conference. He managed to not get heckled. He’s got a front bench team of grown-ups, compared to those promoted by Truss. Her team resemble Young Conservatives, who never leave their student digs without copies of Robert Nozick or Ayn Rand tucked into a compartment of their satchels. Labour even managed to announce a continuation of the policy to renationalise the railways and a new policy of creating an energy company focused on renewables which would be publicly owned. With pledges for extra cops, there’s something for all wings of the Slight Respite from the Horrors of Capitalism But Don’t Break the Rules Party. They will do their best to look ‘responsible’ in the coming months. If there are strikes expect Starmer to carry on talking of them as a failure rather than offering support. If there is civil disobedience expect it to be condemned. Severe Sir Keir is ready for you, with a stern look and Labour Party members will be ready too, to condemn the anarchists for spoiling a jolly good peaceful march, or whatever nonsense they’ve organised to get ignored by the media with.
Truss, meanwhile, is heading to her party conference as I write this. She conducted some bizarre interviews with BBC local radio stations in the week which journalist Jon Sopel characterised as a version of the game Just a Minute but in reverse. She answered with hesitation, deviation and repetition and thought she’d done very well. Tory MPs are said to be avoiding the conference and rumours abound that the final night karaoke has been pulled from the schedule. Things must be bad if Therese Coffey is being prevented from getting smashed and metaphorically strangling the cat.
Rumours also abound that Tories are plotting to strangle Truss’s premiership before Christmas. 1914 tells us we can’t assume the horrors will end that easily. The cost of living crisis was always going to involve us working towards mutual aid strategies, protesting and resisting. All that’s happened in the last two weeks has brought that into sharper relief. No waiting and relying on a Labour government because it might not happen. No waiting and relying on economic growth because it might not happen, and er capitalism can get fucked. No waiting for the IMF to sail to the rescue. And under no circumstances can we wait for Tory MPs to get rid of their leader. First off, they might fail to do so. Secondly, if the trend continues, they will produce someone even worse than the gaff-on-legs Trussterfuck we’re currently stuck with.
Image: Guy Smallman