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Return of the Truss

By Frank McKenna

By Frank McKenna

Liz Truss is no Margaret Thatcher. In his latest blog, Frank McKenna explains why.

A plan for growth. Planning reform. The building of more housing. Fracking. And tax cuts.

In a nutshell, that was  Liz Truss’ manifesto when she was running for the job as prime minister. And it was the agenda that she was out and about promoting again this week, as her period of reflection – which lasted about as long as her premiership- came to an end.

Reflection may not be the best word to describe the former PMs comeback commentary though. Indeed, she appears anything but reflective when describing her tumultuous, short, term in office.

With a straight-face she suggests that it was external ‘left-wing’ forces that brought her down. It’s the first time I’ve heard the Bank of England and the financial markets described quite like that.

Further, she complains that nobody warned her that the introduction of un-costed tax cuts  and a swathe of other radical announcements in her chancellors not so mini budget would have the impact that it did.

Sadly for Liz, her leadership opponent, and many of his supporters, spelt out very clearly, during what felt like a 99-week Tory hustings,  exactly what her plans would result in – a collapse of pension funds and a hike in interest rates, and therefore mortgage costs, among the unfortunate consequences of her flawed approach.

Finally, she bemoans the poor communication of her strategy as the final reason for her abject failure in Number 10. Again, I can only observe with bewilderment that her time away did not, apparently, provide her with some time to hire a couple of people to improve her presentational and communication skills. For, within the interviews I have heard at least, there is no apology for the misery her policies have placed on millions of British people. And her response to the question about why she sacked her mate and chancellor in her interview with the Spectator magazine, has to be heard to be believed.   

Nonetheless, there are enough Tories, MPs, and members, who buy the line that Liz simply wasn’t given the opportunity to fully implement her plan. She wants to be the ‘intellectual’ leader of the new Thatcherite Right, with some significant support on the face of it.

Has a chunk of the Conservative Party simply lost the plot? Well, to be wholly objective, not entirely.

Truss is right in saying we need a growth plan. The economy cannot continue to shrink, if we are to afford the NHS, education, infrastructure investment, and the many other public services our taxes support – let alone the paying down of our mammoth debt.

The idea of planning reform is well overdue. Building new houses is something we would all sign up for – but it needs planning reform if it is to be on the scale required. And there is at least a debate to be had about the merits or otherwise of fracking. And, as far as tax cuts are concerned – she is absolutely right. The ‘squeezed middle’ and SMEs have never been taxed more – and they won’t put up with it for very much longer.

However, her self-comparison with Thatcher is a further example of her lack of self-awareness.

Thatcher was good at strategy. But she was even better at tactics.

Strategically, she wanted a low-tax UK economy. Tactically, she increased taxes in her first term of office when inflation was high, only changing tack when the economic circumstances allowed.

It was the same with the many reforms she introduced. Celebrated for defeating the miners, and ultimately the wider Trades Union movement in 1984, she gave in to Arthur Scargill and his comrades wage demands just three years earlier – when she hadn’t managed to create stockpiles of coal.  

Before Truss rushed to sack respected civil servants, ignore the Treasury, and tell the IMF that their observations were not wanted, she and her chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng ought to have built up credibility, developed their plan, and had the modesty to have their ‘homework’ independently checked.

And as far as her big, get the economy moving, ideas were concerned – planning reform, housing, and fracking – well it was the NIMBYs on her own backbenches who were the flies in the ointment- not some mythical ‘left wing’ conspiracy group. They hated those policies and were threatening to vote them down. If Liz Truss is serious about making a political comeback, then she can stick to her framework of policies, and the mantra of low tax. But, if she wants to genuinely be the new Thatcher, then she will have to radically improve her tactical nous, and her communication skills.

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