Trivia question: Who was Canada’s first and only female prime minister? The answer, you might know, is Kim Campbell, who led the vast North American nation for a little more than four months between late June and early November 1993.
You deserve bonus points if you could provide details, such as leading Canada’s Progressive Conservative party from a handsome parliamentary majority when Brian Mulroney stepped aside, to just two Members of Parliament when the dust settled on the counting of ballots.
But this is not about Canadian politician history. More to the point, it serves as a valuable lesson for every elected leader of the perils that can befall a government who have been in power for successive terms, and who are deemed to be out of touch with the voters.
And I raise the spectre of the Kim Campbell experience now when it comes to the United Kingdom. Within days, she will most probably be crowned as the next Prime Minister by those who political observers here in Britain refer to as the “Tory selectorate”, succeeding Boris Johnson come 5 September.
Regular readers of this column will know that a long list of pressing issues face Truss as soon as the keys to 10 Downing Street are handed over and she hands her first saucer of milk to Larry the resident cat.
According to Ofgen, the agency that sets the UK’s energy rates, come October, the average household will be paying £3,459 — Dh14,875 — to heat their homes and keep the lights on come October. By January, that cap will likely rise to £6,500 — Dh28,000.
That’s for families. If you’re running a business, there is no price cap. The sky’s the limit as to what energy companies can charge to power the factories, companies, shops, pubs, restaurants and every workplace up and down Britain.
That’s the scale of the crisis. It’s worth noting that according to the Office for National Statistics, the average wage in the UK in 2022 is £29,971 — Dh111,700. Yes, a quarter of pre-tax salary is going to go to heat and keep the lights on. Maybe, given that type of looming energy crisis that will need to be tempered as soon as she is announced the winner, maybe Rishi Sunak will be slightly thankful he came in as the also-ran.
According to published reports, even those who earn £45,000 — Dh193,5000 —will be struggling to heat and eat. And people with that level of salary, have been traditional Conservative voters — the bread and butter families who consider themselves to be reasonably well off and benefitters of the past 15 years of successive Tory administrations under David Cameron, Theresa May and the departing Johnson.
Having been elected by less than 200,000 Conservative party members, less than .25 per cent of the UK population, she will need a new mandate. A general election will be called sooner rather than later. For Truss, the later the better. And here’s why.
As things stand now, Conservative support stands at 31 per cent and is falling with each passing week – and that’s nowhere near majority territory. The last general election in December 2019 gave Johnson an 80-seat majority.
Now, if the polls are to be believed, only one-in-two of those who cast a ballot for Boris would do the same for Truss. Less than one-in-five believe now that the Conservatives are in a position to win a majority. By next week, that will likely be lower.
Safe Conservative seats
Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer is growing in opinion polls with each passing day, and the party has promised to freeze those energy bills at the current maximum levels of £1,900 — Dh8,170.
Deep trending from political pollsters suggest that even die-hard Conservatives in the traditional belt around London and the south, have had enough and are deserting the party.
Safe Conservative seats that were the bedrock of successive governments, now seem at risk. Even if these voters are loath to cast ballots for Sir Keir’s socialists, the Liberal-Democrats seem like a reasonable option.
Already, a string of byelections in safe Conservative seats have been won by the Lib-Dems — but Johnson’s character and rule-breaking during the national lockdowns of the Covid pandemic were believed to be factors then.
Now, in any immediate general election, failing to tackle the energy crisis with plans that are credible for the millions of Britons in genuine peril in the coming months, is a flaw that will be Truss’ undoing.
Back in Kim Campbell’s Canada, the electorate were angry over the introduction of a federal Goods and Services Tax at 7 per cent by Mulroney. And that anger annihilated a generation of Conservative seats.
That 80-seat majority won by Johnson on a promise to Get Brexit Done is in peril, simply because the Conservatives are deemed to be out of touch with those trying to heat homes, keep lights on and keep their businesses afloat.
While there is no guarantee that Labour under Sir Keir could be able to win a clear majority, there is growing evidence that such an electoral goal is fast receding for the Conservatives. In any new parliament, where a good 50 seats or more will be coloured in the tartan of the Scottish Nationalist Party, chomping at the bit for a second referendum on independence, the cost of support will be a clear and watertight commitment to that second legally-binding plebiscite.
With Brexit done – and with a majority of Scots opposed to the UK leaving the European Union in the first instance — there seems to be little now that can rally Conservative supporters to the ranks of a party that seems tired after 15 years in power. Canadians tired of the Conservatives after nine years. That’s why Kim Campbell is relevant today…