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Has Liz Truss trapped Labour? The Queen's death hasn't scuppered her plan

Breach of protocol (YUI MOK/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Breach of protocol (YUI MOK/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)


September 16, 2022   4 mins

At the heart of Downing Street is “The Grid” — the confidential calendar of media announcements that drives the daily drumbeat of government stories. Departments always compete to have one of their policies slotted in as “Story Of The Day”; win over the public and you’re 90% of the way to making sure it gets passed.

However, since Liz Truss became Prime Minister, all this intergovernmental wrangling has ground to a halt. The death of Queen Elizabeth II, and the ensuing period of mourning, was always going to disrupt government communications. But what does that mean for Truss’s new administration?

There is, of course, an argument that this is a bonus for Truss. One of the immediate challenges for any incoming Prime Minister is to stamp themselves on the public imagination as being “prime ministerial”. What better way to do that than appear with the new monarch, King Charles III, as he travels around the United Kingdom? If you can’t generate attention, you can at least gain some authority.

Yet sometimes, making the best of a bad situation isn’t enough. And Truss’s real problem is that you only get one chance to make a first impression. We know that Team Truss had a “First 100 Days” plan, which they wanted to follow with 12 months of delivery in 2023, and then finally pivot into the election year of 2024. The public would quickly get to know their new Prime Minister by her actions. As Truss reiterated throughout her leadership campaign, she gets things done.

Her recent energy price cap announcement was not a stand-alone event — it was the start of a concerted programme of reform. The intention was to follow up with necessary legislation, information for households, and details for businesses and public services. And then to move rapidly to a “fiscal event” — a “mini-Budget” in old money — where promised tax cuts could be delivered without the threat of any doom-mongering from the Office of Budget Responsibility. This concerted activity and the generous giveaways would provide a powerful sense of momentum. The Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer, would be left carping from the side lines about a package of help three-to-four times larger than the one he had proposed last month.

But instead of hitting the ground running, Prime Minister Truss has hit the ground mourning. In the background there has been discussion of government policy, but it has mainly consisted of questions and criticisms around details of the energy price cap. The problem is that her full policy requires legislation, which can only be passed and debated in parliament, when it returns to full sitting in mid-October. If a week is a long time in politics, the five weeks until the House sits again is an eternity.

Now, there is some press briefing going on. The abandonment of the sugar tax, and possibly the entire government anti-obesity strategy has been floated. As has ending the cap on bonuses in the City. These give the flavour of what the 100 Days Plan must have looked like. Sir Lynton Crosby famously talks of “getting rid of the barnacles”: that before a government can campaign effectively, it needs to rid itself of unnecessary distractions. These could be unpopular policies, ungrasped nettles, or unresolved disputes, but the Queen’s death has prevented this, disrupting the Government’s momentum.

Team Truss were clearly planning for a bolder strategy — what you might call the Joe Strummer approach: Cut The Crap. The Prime Minister wants to govern as she campaigned for the leadership. Directly, clearly and simply. She has said she wants a smaller state, and Labour have taken the bait. Without waiting to see any government policy, some Labour frontbenchers have immediately attacked Truss as a Thatcherite intent on cutting public spending. That’s hard to argue in the face of the energy price cap — one of the biggest unfunded public spending commitments ever made by a UK government.

Worse, it showed that some in Labour haven’t been listening to Truss, or taking her seriously. There’s more than one way to shrink the state — and getting out of people’s lives is an effective and popular one. One of the greatest weaknesses of progressive politics is the belief that what the country is crying out for is “more government”. A large part of the fuel that drives the campaign against political correctness is the sense that government is over-reaching, interfering in bits of life where it has no place. Liz Truss wants to tap into that. She instinctively knows that most people want to look after themselves, their families and their communities without government interference.

The other headline announcement — uncapping City bonuses — has trapped Labour too. Missing the wood for the trees, opposition frontbenchers have spluttered in outrage at policies that would benefit fat-cat bankers rather than the general public. The point, of course, is what David Cameron’s team used to call the politics of “aroma”. It is not the specific policy detail that matters; it is the sense of the overall direction. “Hugging a husky” showed a greener, more compassionate, modern Conservative party. Uncapping City bonuses shows a government committed to Go For Growth — no old-fashioned prejudices or well-meaning sacred cows will be allowed to stand in the way. The point is to grow the pie, not, as Labour want, to talk about tax and redistribution of the proceeds of growth.

Is this a risky approach? Yes. Is it a clear one? Absolutely. The trap for Labour is that they adopt the Sunak Strategy. Liz Truss’s ideas are simplified not simplistic; and as Rishi Sunak’s defeat showed, treating the new PM as a simpleton won’t win votes. Truss may not have the right answers, but she has asked the right question. Growth is the only game in town. If Truss manages to keep it on The Grid when parliament returns next month, her lost 100 days might not be fatal.


John McTernan is a British political strategist and former advisor to Tony Blair.

johnmcternan

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John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago

If growth really is the only game in town, then should we expect to see the rejection not just of Net Zero, but the idiotic Climate Change Act as well?

Because it is certainly no longer viable to keep talking about how a Green revolution will create jobs and boost growth, is it? We’ve just learned the hard way that it is not possible to make energy scarcer and more expensive without crushing the economy.

End of story: there is no way to have both growth and green energy unless we replace fossil fuels with nuclear power, and that’s impossible in the short term even if we started building nuclear power stations yesterday.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  John Riordan

hear hear

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Correct, in fact we should now be on Sizewell Z, as advocated by the late James Lovelock, CH, CBE, FRS.

Last edited 1 year ago by CHARLES STANHOPE
Ibn Sina
Ibn Sina
1 year ago

Interesting
 I always thought that the Sitwells generated a lot of hot air, but never thought about them as a possible source of energy

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Ibn Sina

Well spotted, thank you!

Philip Clayton
Philip Clayton
1 year ago

Is it not fantastic that thank to Thatcher and ‘privatisation’ our ‘nuclear industry’ was completely destroyed? Giving companies assurances that they would not have to pay for any ‘decommissioning costs’ allowing them to declare ‘profits’ while closing down all research facilities as they were ‘unnecessary’. Now we are comletely.fucked.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Philip Clayton

Yes a very sad epitaph for an Oxford scientist that I have never been able to understand.
However since her ‘apotheosis’ this is hardly mentioned.

Ailsa Roddie
Ailsa Roddie
1 year ago
Reply to  John Riordan

John, I feel like you maybe don’t get it. Energy scarcity has arrived in our world before we managed to decouple growth from energy consumption (if this was ever possible). Now we have a few separate issues to contend with which include securing scarce energy supplies in competition with other countries, implementing alternatives to plug the energy gap and boosting resilience in the face of this scarcity as well as the climate impacts themselves such as extreme weather (whatever you think may be causing the climate change, plus there is also obviously the need to avert climate change but that really riles people on here so we can just leave it out completely for the sake of argument.) Survival requires a multi pronged approach to this. You need growth to pay for the alternative energies and the resilience. You need the alternatives and the resilience to maintain growth. To achieve these aims you may not always be able to rely on short term market signals so you need some long term policy. Failing on any one of these prongs, we are basically screwed. Don’t try and pretend it’s simple.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ailsa Roddie
AC Harper
AC Harper
1 year ago

If Truss manages to infuse the Conservatives with some can-do energy it will be Starmer and his Labourers that continue to look tired and listless.

Neil McNab
Neil McNab
1 year ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Hi AC, how’s that ‘can-do energy’ workin’ for ya?

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

The death of HM The Queen, and the reaction of, not only the people of Britain, but the world, sends a giant neon lit message to politicians, that they despise the manipulation, dishonesty, self serving, and lack of duty, and dignity that is their pitiful hallmark.

It should also remind Truss and her government that pandering to woke is not just unnecessary, but for them to capture the vast majority of voters, open honest anti woke, anti national socialist meeja policies are what is really clamoured for.

Red XIV
Red XIV
1 year ago

“Anti-woke” is just an insipid euphemism for “pro-racist.”

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Red XIV

define racist… go on… I dare you?

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

Good article. I’d been waiting for some analysis of how the death of Queen Elizabeth might impact the first steps by Truss as PM, and this piece does a fine job of elucidating the issues and additional pressures she now faces.

I think the general public will be inclined to give her some breathing room because of this, with the mood of conciliation that grips people in the event of a major national hiatus.

The MSM needs to beware. Piling in on Truss could be counterproductive. As a left-leaning commentator, McTernan seems to capture this mood by providing a balanced view which also acts as a warning to the party he’s worked for. As with the MSM, Labour need to beware too.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

They are gearing up for a new leader already, quite willing to throw a centrist man to the lions.

Aaron James
Aaron James
1 year ago

So her answer is spend.

If I were her I would be flying idled Texas fracking gear and crews in on RAF’s 8 C-17 Globe-masters, non stop, and get then fracking the sheep country all day every day.

The ÂŁ would rebound like a super-ball dropped off the roof of Parliament, the inflation would back off, the energy costs would be on track to lower themselves…

May as well, Biden has them shut down and is wrecking the us Economy that way – if USA turned them loose in Pennsylvania the USA economy would be surging ahead….

But no – like Liz, Biden is all about spending one’s way out of debt….

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago
Reply to  Aaron James

All very well, but that won’t solve the immediate problem. Unless the government spends vast amounts of borrowed money many people will be confronted with energy bills that they cannot pay without selling either the car or the children. Perhaps we will see the final implosion of the Tory Party. Don’t shed a tear – they are not conservatives anyway.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Precisely. For myself I just cannot understand why it seems impossible to have a true conservative government. What is so difficult?
Perhaps Ms Truss & Co should go on tour of the Working Men’s Clubs of Northern England and find out what true conservative values really are.
(Clue:- They will NOT be found in Quislington.)
(Health Warning: This may include a passion for blood sports and the like, in certain privileged areas!)

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Spot on!

Neil McNab
Neil McNab
1 year ago

Quislington? Are you some fulminating daft old Colonel with tiles missing on the roof? Why, your beloved B(l)oJo lived in that very borough for a number of years, old man. Why would you want to cancel HIM and those tofu-eaters alike?

James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Without you proposing a viable alternative we could infer you think a Trotskyite, not quite followed by a group of woke anti British clowns is the answer. Interestingly the big EU countries are bribing their populaces more. To Remainer joy of course.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  James Kirk

Translate please.

Neil McNab
Neil McNab
1 year ago
Reply to  James Kirk

How are things in Toryland? I just awoke from a coma after 6 months and you’re the first person I’ve asked!

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Can you sell your children? If only I’d known when they were small enough for me to overpower them.

Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago
Reply to  Aaron James

I see she has just given Zac Goldsmith the Order of the Boot. Guido Fawkes thinks this is a prelude to granting fracking licences next week. Good move if true.

Neil McNab
Neil McNab
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

Oh Matt. Sweetie, it’s ALL crumbled away to dust.

James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago

Diana’s death did Blair no harm. The Queen’s likewise for Truss. The rather loutish ill timed republican outbursts will do Starmer no good. Even he can see that. Staving off a winter of discontent is Liz Truss’s key goal which Starmer also knows well, trying to stop his underlings throwing their toys out of the pram too soon. Braverman holds the next key. The wavering marginal voter is watching and typically backs the favourite.

Philip Clayton
Philip Clayton
1 year ago

Growth,growth, growth (Kier Starmer), growth, growth.growth (Liz Truss). Aside from Climate Change has nobody on this site noticed the destruction of every planetary environment (as there are several environments)? From the seas, to air pollution, to the destruction of mining across the planet, to extinction pollution of our rivers, seashores and soil, to extract not just coal, iron ore, oil, but rare earth minerals.
Of course most of Truss’s ‘growth’ will come not from any real ‘production’, i.e. making any three dimensional products, but financial and banking ‘engineering’, i.e. pushing bits of internet’ paper around. Allowing bankers to take as much as they can feasibly get away with.
How do these bankers make their money? Guess what? Investing in anything that is profitable and never mind any morality. It is clear that most people on this site would be cheering that approach.
I will bet that someone like Mr J Riordan who writes:
“We’ve just learned the hard way that it is not possible to make energy scarcer and more expensive without crushing the economy.”
thinks he has stumbled upon a ‘truth’ that nobody else has recognised.
Who made the energy scarcer? For deades after Thatcher smashed the miners in 1984 we spent hundreds of millions importing dirty coal from places like Poland, coal that came from open-cast mines. At the same time millions were spent in social security to keep miners alive because they had no work. Ironically miners had huge levels of home-ownership, much higher than most working-class people, because they bought their houses off the NCB. When the mines closed they couldn’t move because nobody would buy their homes because there was no work.
We are the only country with the benefits of huge North Sea Oil fields with no soveriegn wealth fund. Why?
First Thatcher decided to charge the companies a third of what Norway and the Shetlands demanded (“otherwise they won’t pay the investment to develop the fields”), another example of Tory corruption.
On top of that Thatcher ‘privatised’ nuclear power. This was done on the basis that the British State would pick up all the costs of clearing up the nuclear waste and decommisoning costs. If any other country had done this it would have been called what is was and is: Corruption.
Worse still, as soon as it passed into private hands the companies disbanded all the research facilities and engineeering departments as they were ‘expensive’. Consequently the UK went from being a world leader in Nuclear tech for energy generation to one that can no longer build anything and offers huge bribes to French and Chinese companies to build new nuclear power stations.
In the current situation we have no control over global energy prices. We do have control over standing charges which are iniquitous in the extreme and bear no relation to real costs or activity.
Renewable energy is not the complete answer, but the Tories have prevented any new onshore wind-farms or solar panel-farms since 2011. On top of that Osborne destroyed the budget for insulating houses. Today we have TWO MILLION fewer insulated dwellings.
If we do not start to build a circular economy where NOTHING IS WASTED, a la the Victorians, create a economy that returns to the 1960’s where things can get repaired, and we don’t change our mobile phones every 12/18 months when they could last 4-5 years we are screwed.

Russell David
Russell David
1 year ago

Surely a lost 10 days, not 100 days?

Maureen Finucane
Maureen Finucane
1 year ago

“Without Government interference” means cuts in Tory parlance.

Michael Davis
Michael Davis
1 year ago

Good

Neil McNab
Neil McNab
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Davis

Cut the Tories…out of public life. They’ve stunk up our great nation for quite long enough.

R Wright
R Wright
1 year ago

Cuts = less money for equity, diversity and inclusion/HR women

Maureen Finucane
Maureen Finucane
1 year ago
Reply to  R Wright

Fewer mental health facilities and services for those who really need it in the case of a relative of mine. Cut to the bone since this lot have been in power.

Neil McNab
Neil McNab
1 year ago
Reply to  R Wright

You must have had a cut to your oxygen to the brain to come out with that garbage.

Mark McKee
Mark McKee
1 year ago

One needs to separate the functions of government that add no value from the ones that are valuable public services. We could enumerate wasteful things such as policy wonks in the Education Dept that preside over the radicalisation of the schools curriculum, zealots hatching a net zero policy, pointless layers of management in the NHS, and a lack of industrial and energy strategy that lacks focus on our ability to manufacture goods and heat our homes. Cutting this waste is separate to things like the number of school places or hospital beds. The former is what reduces “government interference.”

James 0
James 0
1 year ago

Can’t read the article?

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
1 year ago

Hugging a hoody, I believe.

James Wilmot
James Wilmot
1 year ago

EVIL NEVER SLEEPS, WAKE UP!!!

Jim Thomson
Jim Thomson
1 year ago

This did not wear very well….

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago

A cynical piece of writing I think assuming that one is going to use the death of the Queen to stamp their authority on the nation. Is it thought that humans will always use every situation for political gain. Cannot one be genuinally sorry that the Queen has passed rather than thinking there can be political gain here? If it is assumed that Liz Truss is going to use all that has happened for her political gain then she is not worthy of her position. I hope she is not made in that caste and have no reason yet to think that she is.

Last edited 1 year ago by Tony Conrad
anxious coupe
anxious coupe
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Conrad

Mcternan like is old tory boss Blair speaks like a Thatcherite and indeed is one , to think these charlatans once hijacked the Labour party

James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago

The sugar tax clearly wasn’t working. The relative handful of money men making mad bonuses will be paying 40% tax, buying luxury goods i.e. employing people and, like lottery winners, will retire young. A 10% tax on lottery winners wouldn’t hurt but I doubt it’ll buy many weapons for Ukraine or repair the roads.