The spectacle of political implosion in the Conservative party is no reason for schadenfreude (joy at misfortune of another) among Irish and European democrats. But the Truss premiership has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster for Britain. She cannot be forgiven or excused for what has happened.
Truss and her allies ruthlessly hunted Sunak, the MPs’ favourite, into defeat at the hands of the Tory party membership. They portrayed Sunak as a Labour chancellor in all but name. They rubbished his concerns for the integrity of the UK’s public finances. They sold their message of unfunded borrowing leading to dramatic growth with the zeal of true believers. They were contemptuous of any political wimps who preached caution. Their strategy was one of reckless self-belief rather than a mild case of wishful thinking.
And yet Sunak did surprisingly well to defy the pollsters’ predictions of a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Tory membership. Faced with Sunak’s better than predicted performance, Truss ruthlessly purged his supporters from her cabinet as if she held them all in contempt as benighted cowards whose political mettle disqualified them from the ranks of true believers.
We are in no great position to judge whether there was any substance to the Truss team’s very damaging campaign press briefings which portrayed Penny Mordaunt as a gormless lightweight. But having seen Liz Truss blandly blithely destroy her erstwhile closest ally, Kwazi Kwarteng, and show herself to be a slow-witted, inarticulate mouther of poorly-scripted mantras at her pathetic press conference last Friday, one can only think that, at very best, she proved that “it takes one to know one” if those criticisms were at all true.
And to think that Truss bemoaned her own comprehensive school for “overlooking her potential”!
This debacle is one, like Brexit, engineered by the Tory Commons rump now known as the European Research Group (the ERG) but previously dubbed “the bastards” by their own leader, John Major. The ERG lives in a fantasy world where trade agreements with the Commonwealth and domestic enterprise zones, coupled with welfare reductions, spending cuts and a buccaneering spirit will ensure that Britain escapes its long-term post-industrial malaise.
The new austerity now enthusiastically espoused by Jeremy Hunt (who outbid Truss’s 19% corporation tax promise with his own 15% variant) ends all talk of raising defence expenditure to 3% of GDP and much of the Johnsonian levelling up agenda.
The ludicrous aspect of the ERG’s mentality is their failure to grasp the colossal damage done by them and by Truss to Britain’s standing in the eyes of the world. The result is pitiful. They endorsed the “unfunded borrowing to growth” strategy. It blew up. And now their concern is to save their own seats from the consequences of their own misjudgements, political deafness and blindness.
In Northern Ireland, there was hope that the Stormont administration could go to Whitehall with an outstretched begging bowl to politically massage the reconstitution of the power-sharing executive. Spending cuts do not augur well for that aspiration. On the contrary, there is every sign of a looming budgetary crisis to compound the political crisis of DUP abstentionism.
That is why schadenfreude is wholly inappropriate among political observers in Dublin. The UK needs to get back onto an even keel politically and economically. If Sunak or some like-minded leader emerges to rescue the Tories from immediate meltdown, he or she could face down the ERG by threatening a general election if they will not support one-nation Toryism instead of the Boris-Liz fantasy ideology.
The Western world is facing a crisis of self-belief. Trump-ism in America and Truss-ism in Britain threaten the viability of the two major pillars of western democracy and freedoms. We are weeks away from the likely loss of both Houses of Congress to Trump-dominated Republican politics.
This western crisis is, in no small way, the disastrous legacy of Rupert Murdoch, a man whose pursuit of political influence at the expense of centrist democratic politics is an ongoing toxic drip-feed in the arm of democracies wherever he has cast his media shadow. Fox News and the Tory tabloids who recently noisily lauded Kwarteng’s so-called mini-budget are part of a piece. They are reckless purveyors of divisive, deceptive political snake oil.
Come to think of it, who in the UK media actually supported Sunak’s conservative approach to the UK economy? Are sensible media dumbstruck by the fear of being proven wrong by opinion polls. One of the Tory right’s hit-list victims is the BBC, a last bastion of centrist reasonableness. Is public opinion to be informed by the BBC or led by the Sun, the Mail and the Express?
Britain has to learn lessons from this national and international debacle. Its centre has to be reconstructed and empowered.
Having avoided the madness of Corbyn, Britain needs to shake off the delusions of its hard right.