Simple kind of life
Well, here we are. On Monday we will finally ‘know’ who our next Prime Minister is. We already know, of course. It would be a shock even to him should Rishi win after all. But on Monday it becomes official. Then, on Tuesday she will be appointed by her namesake - two Liz’s running the Country, what are the chances? And by Wednesday we will have a new(ish) Government. And then…. What?
It has become almost a cliche to remark on the perfect storm that awaits our new Prime Minister. And the problem with cliches is that repetition breeds a certain numbness to their meaning. But make no mistake, the country that Liz Truss will begin running next week is in deep, terrible trouble.
We all have less money. That’s the nub of it. Inflation in general - energy bills in particular - makes us all, aggressively, poorer. And there is no light at the end of that tunnel in sight.
Longer-term, our economy is not growing fast enough to support the public services we rely on and our productivity is bad and not improving. Small and energy intensive businesses will simply fold over the next six months, short of substantial intervention, creating an unemployment crisis. The Bank will continue to hike interest-rates in an effort to tackle inflation. In doing so, they will render hundreds of thousands of people (who bought their houses and flats in a long period of near zero interest rates) unable to repay their mortgages - creating a homelessness crisis.
We are, de facto, at war and in a recession.
The NHS has ceased to function on multiple fronts and people are dying unnecessarily as a result. Schools can’t afford to heat their buildings and many will be forced to close for periods during winter - they will simply be too cold for children to study safely in them. The courts are at a standstill and vulnerable victims are waiting years for any form of justice. Vast sections of the North West have been rendered unnavigable by public transport as rail companies stagger from crisis to crisis. Nothing in Britain works easily or smoothly at the moment.
There will be more strikes, as unions perform their function and seek to mitigate the impact of our ruined economy on their members’ lives. Understandable as those strikes may be, they will add to the overall sense of strife and friction and failure. Where they take place in strategically important sectors - such as at Felixstowe Port - they will also compound the trade and supply issues brought on by Brexit, which are already driving up the price of many products.
What will Liz Truss do about all of this? Or, even, some of it? What are her priorities and her plans? Here you can see a summary of her policy commitments, divined from her statements and those of her allies over this long campaign. But what sort of person is she and how will that impact her approach? In a lifetime of political and policy switcheroos, there are some striking observable consistencies about Truss.
She is optimistic and determined. She is an inflexible believer in individualism as both the proper source of responsibility and the animator of opportunity. She dislikes the complexity of progressive infrastructure designed to give and take money from people and smooth the edges of inequality. She is - and this is not intended pejoratively - a ‘simplist’.
She wants things to be straightforward, government to be small and practical and people to be left to forge their own path. She is also not convinced of or beholden to the Osborne dictum of economic management. She doesn’t care much about the question of debt and isn’t much bothered about ‘balancing the books’. If Osborne pleaded that austerity was a necessary evil because of the deficit, Truss would retort that a smaller state is desirable as a goal in itself, but that she is happy to borrow in order to reduce taxes in advance of achieving any meaningful shrinkage. Put bluntly, she wants the rewards of balanced books before getting into the messy business of balancing them. It is… simpler that way.
Unfortunately for our simplist next Prime Minister, the Country and her party are rather messy at the moment. Her desire will be to bring order where chaos currently reigns. If she can do that - or be seen to be doing that in the places it matters most - then she has every chance of leading her party to yet another electoral victory in two years time. Labour’s current lead in the polls is soft and by no means decisive.
But this country is very tired and quite broken. And some of that - not all, of course, but some - is very evidently the fault of the Conservative Party. And in the end, if nothing gets better and some things get worse, the truth is that voters are beginning to understand that simple fact.