ZAt least those opposed to “mainstream” politics enjoyed Liz Truss for a while. Stoically and with a rebellious flicker in her eyes, the new British prime minister fought against the broad consensus that all Tory governments had more or less followed in recent years – despite Brexit. This includes the fact that the state tends to have to take on more tasks for which savings are made elsewhere or for which the citizen has to be asked to pay. This also meant that politics had to be socially just, or at least look like it. Truss ridiculed this as outdated, anti-growth “orthodoxy,” which is why she was viewed by her small, rapidly dwindling following as a courageous innovator, and by the larger remainder as a stray awaiting a swift political end.
After five weeks in office, their mission can be described as a failure. The financial markets have dismissed their – poorly justified and dubiously financed – change of course, which promptly caused interest rates to rise for mortgage borrowers, i.e. for people who count the Tories among their core clientele. Truss has been climbing down her tree branch by branch for days. First she withdrew the centerpiece of her “growth plan,” the cut in the top tax rate, then she announced a change in the Treasury, coupled with further adjustments to her program.
The confusion has only grown
Few believe that Treasury Secretary Jeremy Hunt will be on the mend. His measures may calm the markets, but they do nothing to stabilize the government. Rather, the confusion has grown. Hunt, himself a failed contender for the party leadership, had after his departure supported Truss’s rival Sunak, who was steering in the opposite direction on economic policy. The prime minister’s radical, economically liberal ideas, which she says she intends to uphold, are now being carried out by a declared opponent of “Trussonomics”.
Truss’ downfall was not so much her libertarian instinct, which has supporters in the Conservative Party. Rather, there was a lack of professional preparation and sensitivity. Truss owes her office not to British voters, not even to her own MPs, but to just over 80,000 party members. This is too weak a basis to turn a political course upside down, for which the party was elected less than three years ago. But Truss must have learned a second lesson. Despite Brexit, the British government does not enjoy unlimited leeway. Where the EU can no longer protest, “the markets” step in. A policy that is (in the words of Tory politician Alan Duncan) “irrational nonsense” cannot be enforced even in the post-Brexit era.
Debacle in the next elections?
Without their alternative program, which will soon be revised beyond recognition, Truss is left empty-handed. The public is now looking at a politician who compensates for woodenness and inability to communicate with aimless determination. The Tories are probably not wrong in fearing a debacle in the next general election with this woman at the helm.
The fact that the party has reached this low point is also something that it has itself to blame for. Just a year ago, at the height of the brief Johnson era, the Tories saw themselves governing into the next decade. But Johnson’s dismantling and the dogged, dirty election campaign for his successor have left so many dashed career hopes and unanswered accounts that the party has become a barrage of intrigues, in which politics is only designed as a vehicle for asserting particular interests in power. The dwindling belief that the conservative era can be extended again over the next elections did the rest. Many MPs are only trying to save their constituency for themselves. Taking a stand against your own leadership often promises the greatest success.
Now the Tories are going down the path dictated by a natural political law: if citizens get the impression that a party no longer puts the interests of the country ahead of their own, they will turn away. The newly ignited discussion of who could make a more passable Tory leader and prime minister is perceived as grotesque, if not cynical, given the general crisis. This third putsch debate within five years can only be understood as the last twitch of a governing party that has burned out after long hardships and many blunders for which it is responsible.