From the offset, Liz Truss was the front-runner when it came to replacing Boris Johnson as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
And for the grey, over 60s and southeast England Conservative party members, she was always going to be the safe choice.
But “safe” doesn’t necessarily equate to “best”. But then Rishi Sunak was neither “safe” nor “best” as far as that Tory selectorate was concerned. And right now, with Truss ensconced with Larry the Cat in 10 Downing Street, there is a snowball’s chance in hell that there will be a general election anytime soon. Maybe 2024, you might think.
Why 2024? Because the Conservatives themselves don’t stand that snowball’s chance in hell right now of winning a general election.
Even in the few days that it took for the Tories to stop voting, tot them up, announce Truss and then have her fly up to Balmoral for a meeting with Queen Elizabeth to be invited to become Prime minister, the Conservatives slipped to 15 points behind Labour in opinion polls.
Before BoJo blew it with his lockdown parties, his leadership had a firm 10-point lead over Labour. In 18 months, that is a net 25 point loss.
Is it that Labour has suddenly improved? Or that the Tories have lost their way, public confidence in their ability to govern is shot, and after more than 12 years in power dating back to David Cameron -- his coalition government in 2010, the Conservatives seem to have run out of ideas.
So into this decline and fall of the Tory Empire steps Liz Truss. Even that Conservative base wasn’t overly enamoured with the prospect of the 47-year-old former Foreign Secretary leading them into the fray.
Her margin of victory of Sunak — 57.4 per cent to 42.6 — was the lowest won by any Conservative party leader under the current system. BoJo, with all of the doubts about his character even before he took 10 Downing Street, won more than 66 per cent of party support. Even Iain Duncan Smith — remember him? — polled more than 60 per cent.
Truss also failed to win a majority of support from her own Conservative party Members of Parliament. Recent history shows that they are a divided bunch, partly because they see the reality that slump in the polls means for their prospect of being re-elected come 2024.
Yes, it is they who hear what their constituents think of Boris and the parties, the half-truths and reworking of the truth. And they don’t like their party’s prospects either.
For all of the campaigning for the heart and soul of the Conservative party over the past two months, those promises of tax cuts and building a more economically progressive Britain, Truss has changed her tune.
Energy bills are at their highest levels in years and are set to triple in the coming four months. Triple. So high that two-thirds of British households will be in trouble paying to heat and light their homes. And that’s under the current level of energy caps that apply to homes.
For the millions of businesses, factories, shops, restaurants, pubs — any means of making anything or servicing the economy — there is NO price cap. Yes, they would be happy knowing they face a triple increase, because right now, there is none.
So Truss’ arrival at 10 Downing Street was anticipated not for the new dawn that a new Prime Minister would bring, but simply for any clue — anything — any hope that this impending economic and social disaster might be averted.
So what’s her solution?
Instead of looking at Conservative economic theories, Truss is pulling a page right from Labour’s playbook, promising to freeze energy rates at current levels. Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, proposed that a month ago, and it was poo-pooed as being unrealistic and socialist twaddle. But not now. Not to Truss, who is determined to make an impression.
And here’s the kicker. The cost of freezing those energy bills is estimated at some £100 billion — Dh420 billion. Typical Conservative policy would say that this would need to be funded by tax hikes or cuts to services. No, from what we know of Trussenomics, that £100 bill will be funded by increased borrowing. Borrowing? How un-Conservative is that.
Clearly, Truss is determined that she will reverse the decline in Conservative standing by any means possible, and has given herself two years to do so before facing the UK electorate.
If she is as flexible on that bedrock Conservative policy, will she be flexible when it comes to dealing with Brussels and the European Union? As things stand at the end of the Johnson tenure, the UK is on course for a full-blown trade war with the EU over its reversal and binning of the Northern Ireland protocol.
For all of the noises Truss made to the party members during her leadership campaign honing her true-blue Conservative credentials, she seems to be also very flexible. While diehard Tories might like a fight with Brussels, Truss is looking at that 15-point poll deficit and knows only too well that’s not the way to go right now with the UK economy tethering on recession.
So, after 12 years of solid Conservative rule, lower taxes and all of that, the reality is that Britain is now a member of the club of nations where its debt-to-GDP ratio stands at 100 per cent. Yes, for every pound in circulation in the UK economy, another pound is owed.
And throw in £100 billion more in borrowing, that ratio is only going to increase. And come 2024, whether it’s a Labour or Conservative government after the general election, that growing debt has to be tackled. More austerity, anyone?