So the power in the land has moved from Winchester boy Dishy Rishi Sunak to Old Etonian KamiKwasi Kwarteng. And as Sunak leaves the frontbench frontline to spend more time with his millions, Kwarteng delivers a mega-mini-budget so brazenly designed for the pound-shorting hedge-funders and the Tory Party donor-sphere it makes you wonder whether Liz Truss is a very high-profile undercover agent for the BBB campaign.
That’s BBB as in Bring Back Boris, whose founder and campaign director, Boris Johnson, is currently getting his mates to call round Red Wall MPs asking whether they miss having someone who at least pretended to be there for the many, not the few, and talked the talk about levelling up. This new version of the 12-year-old Tory virus doesn’t even bother with the pretence. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies pointed out – in the absence of any factual, non-gaslighting government assessment – earn less than £155,000 a year, and you’re worse off. Earn more and you’re way better off, with poorer people helping you out.
As Truss sat watching the backside of the close friend and now economic bedfellow she appointed as chancellor, as he stood erect at the Dispatch Box tossing out goodies to his old school pals, the message could not have been clearer – oh, she does love to be “very clear about this”: “We’re a bunch of smug, cruel, arrogant, know-it-all ideologues who wrote a book a while back about slashing taxes for the rich, shredding regulations for the corporates and smashing rights for idle British workers, called Britannia Unchained, and we have gone from being remaindered to becoming Masters of the Universe, so fuck the lot of you, we’re giving it a go. And if it all goes tits up, the pound-shorters will look after us, so it’s win-win even if we lose to Labour.”
One despairing northern Tory even suggested to me that the only logic he could see in KamiKwasi’s strategy was that it was aimed less at winning an election than winning riches for the mates of the Masters of the Universe, and letting Labour in with an economic landscape so reduced to rubble they would never be able to sort it in time for the election after next.
I’m not sure I buy that. I have the feeling Truss believes this can be a winning strategy. The Thatcher trickle-down tribute band act won her the leadership election, and she reckons it can win her a general election, too. Policy “shock and awe” was necessary to try to get away for the third time in six years with the con that a new PM means a new government, and that despite being a minister with Cameron, May and Johnson, the failings of a wasted decade have nothing to do with her. This is made easier by those media outlets propagandising for her as readily as they did for her predecessors. “At last a true Tory budget” rejoiced Lord Dacre of Pyongyang’s Daily Mail, without reference to the fawning headlines over those of KamiKwasi’s predecessors.
As for the Express, how many Tory PMs do we have to have before their readers realise the paper is literally churning out cut-and-paste bullshit for all of them, on their amazing abilities to deliver on endlessly repeated promises to get the economy roaring, show the world what a success Brexit is, fix the NHS, fix social care, and all the other stuff they have all spectacularly failed to do?
Far more important than anything the papers said, mind you, were the strong statements by the RSPB and the National Trust against what they see as the massive threat to wildlife posed by 38 new low-regulation “investment zones”. If I were Lizzie Twarteng, I would not fancy taking on a radicalised RSPB. I joined today.
Two huge stories last week that barely figured on most of the media’s radar yet which, had they happened under Labour, would have sent the press into meltdown.
First, the shorting of the pound I mentioned above. When George Soros made millions betting against sterling ahead of Black Wednesday 30 years ago, he was making a judgment based on hard-headed economic and political analysis. Last week’s mega-mini-budget pound-shorters seem to have had access to decision-makers and decisions ahead of time. Sounds like insider trading to me. If it had been under Labour, I’m sure Yates of the Yard would have been all over it.
The second story concerns Mark Fullbrook, Truss’s chief of staff, whose salary is being paid not by the government but by his lobbying company. This is the same Fullbrook who had been quizzed by the FBI about his role in an overseas political funding scandal, another real news story that sank without trace.
“It is not unusual for a special adviser or civil servant to join government on secondment,” said No 10 in defence of the Fullbrook arrangement. Come again? We are not talking about someone helping manage a new IT system at the Department of Paperclips. We are talking about the chief of staff to the prime minister.
There were questions raised about whether this bizarre arrangement was so Fullbrook could avoid paying tax, which, given the nature of this government, would not be a surprise. Tax, like the law, is for the little people. But it misses the point. The arrangement represents a clear conflict of interest. I hate that old phrase “it wouldn’t have happened in my day,” but, well, it wouldn’t, and if it had, my God you would have heard of it by now. Lord Dacre of Pyongyang would have gone full Starmerbeergate mode by now.
I hope some of you caught, and enjoyed, the first episode of Make Me Prime Minister on Tuesday, the new Channel 4 series in which Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi and I are on the hunt for an alternative PM. Twelve contestants – 11 now that we have had the first elimination after the battle to find a good education policy – are competing to show they have what it takes.
Sunday Times journalist Tim Shipman, one of the media figures occasionally putting our candidates through their paces, accurately pointed out that there was a greater rigour to our process than the one that saw the Tories choose between Truss and Sunak (neither of whom would have made our final!).
I was also thrilled to see him write that he felt confident, having seen some of the episodes, that as well as being good telly, the series should be good for politics, too. Let’s hope so. My God, we need new blood, and if you stick with the series, I think you will see that several of the candidates are easily as good as some of the politicians we regularly see on the news.
It was great fun working with Sayeeda Warsi, who may be a Tory, but she is northern, warm, loves a good laugh, and loathes what her party has become and is doing to the country almost as much as I do. She also has a very good habit of saying what she thinks. So when we were interviewed by the Times magazine, I loved that she wasn’t buying into the idea that Liz Truss putting people of colour into top jobs in government somehow gave her or the government a free pass on racism. Sayeeda, remember, was at the forefront of the campaign to get her party to take Islamophobia seriously.
“Just because somebody is female or black or brown, if they’ve got nasty ideas, they’re still nasty people,” she said. I heard enough over the weeks we spent filming together to know who she meant. Clue? We saw a lot of them during the leadership election, and are seeing plenty of them on the front bench now.