Our next Prime Minister needs to prepare for a chaotic Christmas
The Tory leadership contest has another two weeks to run, but we’re just going through the motions now. Liz Truss might as well stop campaigning and start planning what she’s going to do as Prime Minister.
Her first job (apart from penning Carrie Johnson a thank you note for the tastefully re-decorated flat) is to appoint a Cabinet. It’s going to be tricky rewarding everyone who’s clambered aboard her bandwagon, so it might help if she creates one or two new positions. Above all, she needs the right man or woman to manage the looming fuel bill crisis.
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According to analysis from Vicky Leigh of Citizens Advice, energy debts have already become the most common debt issue across most of the country. But how much worse is it going to get when the price cap goes up by thousands of pounds in October and January?
Most likely, Truss will have to u-turn on the “hand outs” she so casually dismissed during the leadership campaign. However, the vast expense of a rescue package will blow up her tax-cutting plans — unless, that is, she can contain the costs. And to do that she needs the mother of all energy saving campaigns.
Certainly, there’s never been a more cost-effective time to lag the country’s leaky lofts. But where’s the nationwide roll-out? Why aren’t we stockpiling the necessary materials or training up the installers or encouraging householders to clear their attics in preparation?
Or what about the use of public buildings to provide warm refuges in the dead of winter? Libraries may prove to be a popular destination, but is anyone thinking about the extra seating they’ll need to cope with an influx? Or the extension of opening hours? Or the extra staff and volunteers?
All of these issues and countless more will need to be sorted before the winter — and that means close coordination across multiple government departments, agencies and local authorities. For that, we’re going to need a Cabinet-level Minister for Winter, with the power to bang heads together across Whitehall and beyond.
The obvious choice is the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nadhim Zahawi. For one thing, Truss will probably want to move him out of the Treasury so she can install a close political ally. More to the point, however, Zahawi was the minister for vaccines during the Covid pandemic and therefore knows all about mobilising a successful nationwide effort.
He was also a founder of the polling company, YouGov. As such he will have a feel for public opinion. This won’t directly help with planning a competent response to the fast approaching crisis, but it should provide the Cabinet with a warning of the consequences of failing the test.
Liz Truss is set to become Prime Minister almost one hundred years after Andrew Bonar-Law — who served just 211 days in office. If she wants exceed his tenure, then she must be aware that her job is on the line from day one.
Whether she gets through the winter depends on how well she gets us through the winter.