In Liz We Trust?

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Where to even start?

• First, a brief explainer:

This was written in the wake of Liz Truss being announced as the new Prime Minister of England. I was finishing this off on Thursday when I was overtaken by news of the Queen, necessitating a delay for edits and additions as that seismic shock altered the landscape. There may be more to come on the end of the Elizabethan age.

But for now, back to politics:


The wait is over.

Prime Minister Number 56 assumes the role, the 15th and final that Queen Elizabeth has received.

The length of her reign is emphasised by the fact Winston Churchill was her first.

For those who like a bit of geopolitics, or want to understand what’s going on and learn who Liz Truss is: Read on.


Firstly, I confess that I have never voted Conservative so I can’t promise complete impartiality.

But when did that ever stop anyone?

It has become quite the habit to change the PM mid-term. The Conservatives like to depose their PMs, rather than let them leave voluntarily:

Of their last five PMs, only John Major left as a result of election defeat. 

Margaret Thatcher won three elections, but she was forced out as her party decided that whatever her legacy: it was time to go. 

David Cameron resigned but he had no choice after the massive strategic error in losing the Brexit vote.

Theresa May was forced out due to her inability to get Brexit done.

The reason this can happen is that unlike the US presidential elections: we don’t directly elect the PM.

The 650 Parliamentary seats are decided by voting for your preferred Member Of Parliament (MP). The leader of the party with the most MPs becomes Prime Minister. Whether in power or opposition, a party can change leader whenever they see fit. 


On to how this ridiculously prolonged recruitment process unfolded:

The leadership contest was open to any Conservative MP that could get 20 of their colleagues to support them. Eight made it onto the ballot and five rounds of voting followed over the course of a week reducing the candidates to two. 

Rishi Sunak was comfortably ahead throughout the five ballots with Penny Mordaunt in second until the final ballot. She made the biggest initial impact. Polling suggesting that she was the preferred candidate amongst party members, whereas Rishi lagged far behind in that respect.

Liz’s campaign started badly. At her launch event she missed her cue onto the stage, gave a lacklustre speech and ended by walking off through the crowd to the exit only to find she’d gone the wrong way and having to backtrack.

Prophetic?

Having finished third in the first four ballots, she made it into the top two in the final count. The candidate defeated in round four was more politically aligned with Liz than Penny. So, Liz inherited the bulk of their supporters.

The final decision then rested with Conservative party members. There are around 170,000 of these with the demographic skewed towards white males over the age of 50. The fact this isn’t exactly representative of the country was evidenced from the start with polling of members, suggesting a foregone conclusion for Liz to win whereas the general population favoured Rishi. 

At this stage the process ground to a crawl with members having seven weeks to make their choice.

During which time Boris remained nominally in charge. He used the time productively; got married, went on honeymoon to Slovenia and less than two weeks after returning… took another holiday to Greece. 

Meanwhile, despite the increasingly dire warnings about a cost of living crisis, the party line was that they would get to that, once the new leader was named.

The nadir of this cavalier approach to crisis came the day that it was announced by the energy regulator that the cost to consumers of gas and electricity which had already increased by 54% in April would increase by another 80% in October.

Not one member of government fronted up to the media to say anything at all despite the strain and worry this placed on households.

A strategy that figured not appearing at all would look better than squirming through interviews saying they had nothing to offer yet.

Much of Liz’s success was due to not being Rishi Sunak. Boris remains popular with members and they saw Rishi as disloyal with his actions instigating Boris’ downfall. Liz and her support also played up his wealthy background, suggesting he wasn’t exactly a man of the people. 

She also preached to the converted in her message to members. Rishi emphasised the need to be cautious with the economy and couldn’t rule out further measures to safeguard this and energy supplies. Liz eschewed caution and promised tax cuts which would deliver growth and prosperity. 

In the end Liz won comfortably by 57% to 43%.

…though polling had suggested she was much further ahead than this. There was also a tranche of members who didn’t vote reflecting a perception that ‘neither of the above’ was also a popular response. Measuring her vote against the number of members, less than half voted for her. That combined with the fact that only 30% of MPs voted for her doesn’t suggest starting from a position of strength.

So her decision making in appointing her cabinet can be taken two ways. 

Supporters of Rishi have been shown the door. Some see this in terms of the saying to keep your friends close and your enemies closer. She could have promoted unity by integrating them into her plans as she may well need their support. Whereas the other view is that in difficult times relying on the support of friends and allies is the obvious way to go and her opponents need to be put in their place. Only time will tell if she made the right decision.

One surprisingly positive aspect of her cabinet reboot means: this is the first time there are no white men in any of the top four jobs in government. Talk about mixed messaging: the party that often seems to go out of its way to decry the promotion of diversity is in itself becoming increasingly diverse at the top. 

Polling in the immediate wake of her appointment indicates the scale of her task to win the public over. One poll on the day of the result gave Labour a 17 point lead based on Liz being in charge. Another saw only 19% answering that they had a lot or some confidence that she could tackle the cost of living crisis.

More damning is that only 14% thought she’ll do a better job than Boris. Normal expectation is that a new leader will have a honeymoon period and see a bounce in the polls. With the measures now announced to tackle energy bills, that may well happen. But there’s still a lot of uncertainty on how they’ll work out. 

It also depends on whether voters will forgive the months of inaction during the leadership contest and how she insisted no specific help was needed. A position that despite presenting herself as a leader that won’t backtrack she then backtracked on, especially once all the other parties got in first in announcing how they would help struggling households.

What’s on the agenda for Liz other than energy bills and cost of living crisis?

Linked to those and rising inflation is a continuing series of strikes over pay and conditions from railway workers, bus drivers, barristers, postal workers, telecommunications workers and refuse collectors. They aren’t necessarily all the government’s responsibility to sort. But if they spread, it may well come back on them.

The National Health Service, which successive PMs have vowed to sort, keeps getting worse. Covid contributed but there are lengthy waiting lists for operations, to see your own doctor and for ambulances. Vacancies within the NHS are increasing so resources are further overstretched and once you’re in hospital a similar crisis in social care means beds are blocked as patients with ongoing care needs aren’t discharged as there is nowhere that can take them. 

There’s the never ending spectre of Brexit as continued battles with the EU and Northern Ireland protocols need resolving.

And for good measure the Scottish National Party is pushing for an independence referendum next year. The last one was 2014. But rather than putting the issue to bed for a generation the continuation of Conservative government and a Brexit that Scotland voted against means there’s no telling how that would go.

There’s plenty more besides; environment, housing and immigration (which may not be that big a deal for many but it always plays well to the right, see also: culture wars and war on woke.

(Sound familiar?)

At the last election the Conservatives won a lot of seats in areas that traditionally voted Labour. Initial indications are that having told party members what they want to hear the message remains the same to the rest of the country, moving policy further to the right and banking on enough of those former Labour voters coming with her rather than moderating the tone for mass consumption.

Lastly, who is Liz Truss?

Personality wise she’s quite the contrast to Boris. Where he was overflowing with exuberance, Liz’s public persona is as charismatic as a grey carpet. She isn’t an inspirational orator. Fair enough – not everyone can be a confident public speaker. I’d flounder but I’m not tasked with inspiring the nation to come together and forget the shitstorm encompassing us.

Like plenty of politicians she has a habit of changing her mind. Allies say this displays her pragmatic and flexible nature. She was against Brexit but once it happened whole-heartedly threw herself behind it. She was President of Oxford University Liberal Democrats only switching allegiance to the Conservatives after finishing her studies. She’s in good company there, Winston Churchill spent his first 18 years in parliament as a Liberal MP.  

At her first Prime Minister’s Questions, a weekly event where she’ll face off against the leader of the opposition the concensus is that she acquitted herself well, performing better in this environment than speechmaking. There was even surprise that she actually answered questions and entered into debate unlike Boris for whom it was all about the performance over content. 

She grew up in Leeds, coming from a left leaning normal family. “Normal,” as in, “not a product of wealth and privilege.” One of the accusations levelled at the Conservatives in recent times is their lack of real world experience as David Cameron and Boris attended Eton; the school for royals and the wealthy.

She was labelled a human hand grenade early in her parliamentary career as detractors said everything she touched blew up in chaos whereas she regards it as a compliment meaning she gets things done and supporters say its because she blows all obstacles out the way. 

I don’t imagine that Liz could ever have thought that a few days into her job she would be dealing with the death of the Queen. Political matters instantly take a back seat; she’s now faced with a different test. The intention was to hit the ground running with a series of major policy announcements to show she meant business.

The Queen’s passing puts paid to that, as Parliament now goes into recess during a period of mourning, bringing all political activity to a standstill. An emergency budget was set for this week to set out plans for putting the economy on an even keel.

Such is the magnitude of the loss of the monarch: even that goes on hold. 

Once the period of mourning ends and political business restarts the tone and messaging will need to be carefully measured against the public mood and the deference that has been shown for the Queen across all media outlets.

Its going to go a long way to defining public perception of her.

The only thing I can say with any certainty is:

Uncertainty abounds.

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JJ Live At Leeds

From across the ocean, a middle aged man, a man without a plan, a man full of memories, a man like JJ.

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Pauly Steyreen
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September 12, 2022 9:49 am

Decisions made by 170,000 white males over age 50 sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Not that our system produces any better results… see result of 2016 election.

Interesting times, they say… Godspeed to you and all the UK, JJ!

mt58
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mt58
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September 12, 2022 10:07 am
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

You folks… are a mess. Just like us. Proud to stand in our own puddle of mud alongside you, as we both try to figure out the next 15 years and get on a proper path to sanity.

Interesting times not withstanding: you all may have gathered that I’m a Brit wannabe. Of my many travels for business over the years, by far the happiest experiences have been on treks to the UK.

I swear that if I could dimension-leap into an alternate life, I would live there. And make you proud.

Virgindog
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Virgindog
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September 12, 2022 10:42 am

I wrote to a British friend of mine after the announcement and asked, “Who is Liz Truss and should we be worried?”

The response was, “A third rate nobody. The dregs from the Tory party’s pool of talent. We should be worried, as her incompetence during a cost of living crisis is likely to be fatal to many but I don’t think the world has anything to worry about per se. Let’s hope that’s not famous last words….”

I’m not exactly reassured.

cappiethedog
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cappiethedog
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September 12, 2022 1:24 pm

Will the U.K. continue to support Ukraine? The Prime Minister says she will, but what about two years down the line?

cappiethedog
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September 12, 2022 4:37 pm

I know about one side about the Queen, and that comes from taking British Literature with my awesome academic advisor. Since there are native Floridians, I suggest they read Feminist Metafiction and the Evolution of the British Literature. I’m joking, of course. It was published by the University of Florida in 2002. Me, as an undergraduate, wouldn’t recognize me, today, feeling a surprising amount of sadness about her passing. Oh, those corgis. I’m sure they would never take a bite out of a Juliana Barwick CD. I like anybody who likes dogs.

Thank you, JJ Live at Leeds.

dutchg8r
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September 12, 2022 2:34 pm

JJ, this was quite possibly the most informative article I’ve ever read about UK politics. Thank You!! And somehow it’s comforting to know the UK is just as messed up in its politics as the US.

That’s why the Queen’s passing is so universally mourned I think – she was never political. It’s so ironic how over the centuries, monarchies are viewed as imperialistic and dictator-like in their absolute control over all things, and democracies sprouted from that strangulation. Now, political parties are seething cesspools of anger and authority, “Our way is the ONLY way” mentality, while the royal families are poster children for diplomatic neutrality.

Logan Taylor
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September 12, 2022 6:57 pm

Cheers, JJ, this was a great summary! I was just reading about the new Conservative Party leadership in Canada. As an American it’s refreshing to know we’re not the only ones bedeviled by the right wing (Although our right wing really sets the standard for national embarrassment unfortunately)

Aaron3000
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Aaron3000
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September 12, 2022 9:45 pm

Great read, JJ. Everyone’s pretty much said what I’m thinking about the state of our nations, so to sum up:

https://youtu.be/GH0YPXb49q0

Last edited 14 days ago by Aaron3000
DJ Professor Dan
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Active Member
September 17, 2022 3:38 am

Meanwhile in Australia… our method of switching Prime Ministers and Opposition Leaders between elections is far simpler. All the MPs of the party go into the party room, they vote, walk out again and tell the nation they have a new Prime Minster. Takes about an hour or so!

This at least is how it is for the conservative Liberal Party. It used to be for Labor as well, but following the experience of 2010 they decided that perhaps a different methodology might be preferable.

What happened in 2010? At the beginning of the year we had Kevin Rudd, possibly the geekiest Prime Minister we’ve ever had, who endeared himself with the Australian population by making up Australianisms such as “fair shake of the sauce bottle.”

Two and a half years into his Prime Ministership he was still popular and ahead in the polls, but behind the scenes he was an egomaniac sociopath and the party had had enough of him. But on the other hand, they couldn’t really go out there and tell the Australian people that their Prime Minster was an egomaniac sociopath. So they just fired him instead and replaced him with Julia Gillard, our first female Prime Minister. And didn’t really explain why.

The problem was that the vast majority of Australians had never heard of Julia before (also they really liked Kevin). I follow politics reasonably closely and even I was like “oh… her?… really?” So, not a great start for Australia’s first female Prime Minister. And no matter how much she got on with the job, many Australians found it hard not to suspect she was sneaky.

So now, after every election loss, the Labor Party gets its members to vote for the next leader. There’s a whole month long campaign for the position, all the card carrying party members vote, and then they don’t try and overthrow the leader until after the next election.

Since Australia now has Prime Minister Albo, our first punk-loving Labor Prime Minister, I quite like this new system. Here’s Albo sculling a beer whilst wearing a Joy Division t-shirt at a Gang Of Youths concert.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52IabGXL73A

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