Liz Truss has only been in power for a few short weeks, but already she seems to have set her sights on overtaking David Cameron as the UK’s worst ever prime minister. When I started this article a few days ago, it was called ‘ten things that are under threat from Liz Truss’s new government‘.
But while our TV screens have been full of non-stop royal commentary from Nicholas Witchell, the Truss government has been very busy looking for more things to sacrifice on the altar of their obsession with economic growth. So here we go with a list of 16 (at the time of writing) things that Tin Lizzie and her minions seem determined to destroy.
1: Drinking water
Not just from the government’s utter failure to regulate water companies and their lazy failure to update the infrastructure. We now have the more pervasive threat of fracking, brought back from the dead by an administration more obsessed with fossil fuels than Jeremy Clarkson. If it goes ahead, we can expect minor earthquakes and polluted groundwater in locations as far afield as Yorkshire and Sussex. However, Keir Starmer could nip this in the bud by promising to reinstate the ban immediately if Labour wins in 2024, which would likely give fracking companies cold feet.
2: Workers’ rights
Truss is on record as saying that British workers need more graft. This follows the usual Tory strategy of blaming everything but themselves for all that has gone wrong with the UK in the past 12 years. Now, she’s given the business and industry brief to Jacob Rees-Mogg, a man who I suspect daydreams about stalking Whitechapel in the mist, stealing clothes from the poor to fund holidays for the rich.
His new position means that he and Truss are in a position to punish the ordinary British worker for their supposed idleness. Rees-Mogg believes that paid holiday is not an absolute right so, like women’s reproductive rights (see point three), look out for moves to weaken this right by stealth. And that is just the start, as the pair of them desire a “bonfire of workers’ rights”, and are looking to get rid of the working time directive, meaning the working week may no longer be limited to 48 hours. The poor work harder, the richer get richer.
3: Women’s right to choose
There have been some mean-spirited and frankly inappropriate attacks on Thérèse Coffey for her weight and lifestyle, since she was appointed health secretary, but these distract from the real threat: her regressive views on abortion. Who better to put in charge of a brief that includes women’s reproductive health? At least she has not echoed ‘Jac-The-Kipper’s’ open declaration that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, including rape and incest. So, while I do not expect an all-out attack on women’s reproductive rights, like we have seen from Donald Trump’s lackeys in the USA, don’t be surprised if we see a drip-drip reduction in the ease of obtaining an abortion.
My guess is Coffey will look the other way when anti-abortionists terrorise women going to clinics, and use the NHS funding crisis to discretely channel money away from abortion, family planning and sexual health. Sadly, women can’t expect much support from the women’s minister, because Truss has done away with the role, nor necessarily from the equalities minister, who is a man.
4: Human rights
The good news is, Dominic Raab made such a hash of the ‘British Bill of Rights’ that Truss has immediately ordered it withdrawn. This is evidence of a fundamental difference between the Truss and her predecessor: Johnson’s goal was to look as if he was in charge, and didn’t really care if the bills he got through were a total mess (exhibit A: the Brexit bill), whereas Truss cares very much about detail and getting things done. Sadly, most of the things she wants done are going to make things worse for us.
The new home secretary Suella Braverman has a lot in common with her predecessor Priti Patel – both are daughters of immigrants whose earnest wish seems to be to make sure no-one else will ever be able to have a family story like theirs. The main difference between them is that, where Patel always wears the expression of a smug pet cat who has just dismembered the family hamster, Braverman perennially looks like a rabbit caught in headlights, as if she knows she’s been promoted way above her ability, and that any minute now her boss will realise this.
Braverman shares Patel’s earnest desire to remove Britain from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and unlike Johnson, we can expect Truss to work hard to make this a reality. No doubt the pair of them will trumpet their own British Bill of Rights to replace it, but what will be in it? See one to three above for what it probably won’t be. Oh, and seven. Plus our children’s right to a future that isn’t on fire (see 12).
5: The economy
Truss is obsessed with promoting economic growth, at the cost of everything else. Yet her response to the current cost-of-living crisis has been entirely composed of kicking the can down the road, and helping the rich more than the poor. What she doesn’t seem to understand about economic is that destitute people don’t spend very much money, and dead people don’t spend any at all.
Meanwhile, she seems quite content for colossal sums of money to be funnelled into the pockets of executives and shareholders from fuel companies, while the state, small businesses and ordinary people all get poorer. Some have suggested that the Tories know they are going to lose the next election, and may even be planning to, and are conducting a ‘scorched earth’ policy, the goal being to make life impossible for the incoming Labour government. We must hope that they fail in this, and that if they don’t, then at least the public will understand who is to blame.
[Ed. This article was written before the disastrous ‘mini-budget’ caused the pound to crash and prompted a new housing crisis, before the International Monetary Fund publicly pleaded with Truss to reverse her policies, and before the Bank of England had to buy government bonds to bail them out.]
6: An independent civil service
The firing of experienced top treasury official Tom Scholar strongly suggests that Truss wishes to turn the civil service from an independent body into one that does her bidding without question. Many might wonder why this matters, but in any organisation, large or small, you need people to run it who are calm, competent and well appraised of factual reality.
Truss and her minions by contrast, seem to prefer people who kowtow to their particular alternative view of reality – people who work with dodgy bankers, or will say “yes Liz”, when she suggests that massive subsidies for energy companies will somehow improve the lot of families who can’t afford to turn the heating on. It’s like the difference between having a coach driver who knows the rules of the road, and one who fervently believes they can drive from Glasgow to Edinburgh in 15 minutes.
7: Free speech
OK, so the draconian bill restricting our right to peaceful protest was the work of Johnson and Patel, but it is somehow symbolic that we are seeing its broader implications under Truss, as anti-monarchist protesters are surrounded by police, or even arrested.
Moreover, it is clear that the law is only being used against people the government doesn’t like, because noisy and aggressive protesters outside abortion clinics seem to be left alone. Given the difference between Truss and Johnson, I fully expect to see the enforcement of this anti-democratic law be increased under Truss, and don’t be surprised if she seeks to curtail our rights to protest even further.
8: The NHS
Again not specific to Truss, the NHS has been on its knees for a while now, due to the twin assaults of underfunding and EU-born doctors and nurses leaving in droves because of Brexit; plus the stress of the pandemic. Only the last is not the Tories’ fault. Some have suggested the goal is privatisation by stealth (I myself have been forced to go private twice in recent years due to extremely long waiting times for specialist appointments). With Truss openly stating that her only priority is the economy, expect the quiet decline of the NHS to continue.
9: Old people
See eight above. And the cost-of-living crisis won’t exactly help.
[Ed. Likewise the threat to pensions from the ‘mini-budget’]
10: Brexit opportunities
OK, so these never existed, but at least under Johnson there was a vague plan to pretend that they did. This entailed making Rees-Mogg minister for Brexit opportunities, and then when he found he couldn’t think of any beyond slightly happier fish, he was reduced to asking the public to name them for him. When his minions had trawled through all the responses, the best they could come up with was fracking (see above) and marginally more powerful vacuum cleaners.
I’m sure anyone who’s stood for three hours in the non-EU passport control at an EU airport felt comforted by this. But now, the Brexit opportunities role has been quietly done away with, and while the opportunities themselves never existed, now the pretence that they did is gone too. Unless of course you’re an unscrupulous employer (see three above).
11: Animal welfare
Zac Goldsmith hardly covered himself in glory during his campaign to become London mayor, but at least his concern for green issues seems to be genuine. And on planet Truss, you can’t have a minister for the environment who actually cares about this stuff, so he’s been relieved of the role. He has also been stripped of responsibility for animal welfare, and looked at alongside Truss’s refusal to ensure animal welfare protection in any trade deals she signs, rather speaks for itself.
12: Our children’s future
“Drill, baby, drill” was the US Republicans’ rallying cry in 2008, as they sought to double down on George W Bush’s indifference towards the future of our planet. Truss has taken up that mantra in all but name, as she madly seeks to increase UK fossil fuel extraction in every way that is possible, from the North Sea, and on land (see one above). This may not be unconnected to her hiring of Mathew Sinclair, an adviser who thinks climate policies do more harm than good and that a greatly warmed world might even be better than what we currently have.
I’d suggest Sinclair try that line on the millions who’ve lost everything to catastrophic floods in Pakistan. The real tragedy about this is that a sensible leader, who actually understood or cared about science, could cut emissions while creating jobs and an economic boom, and could even sell a massive drive for green energy as a patriotic response to Putin’s aggression. Instead, she is helping Vladimir Putin to cook the planet.
The Conservative Party has its own ‘Common Sense‘ group, and the term has long been a rallying cry for hard-line right-wingers like Peter Hitchens, who seem to regard it as the opposite to ‘woke’. Reality tells a very different story, however. How is it ‘common sense’ for a new health secretary to hassle NHS staff about an obscure point of grammar, when the service is in crisis (see eight)?
And how is it ‘common sense’ to lift bonus caps on rich bankers while most Brits struggle to make ends meet (remember that it was the bankers who caused the crash that ushered in five years of ruinous austerity)? While these actions and many others (see one-12 above) all seem mind-blowingly stupid and frankly insane, the goal may well be to distract from the fact that they have no workable plan to deal with the multiple crises facing our country.
14: The countryside
Truss and Kwarteng are trumpeting “low regulation zones” as yet another spurious solution to the economic chaos caused by Brexit. Hidden in the news articles about this, is the key point that planning regulations will be reduced. What that means is that precious areas of countryside that might until now have enjoyed some degree of protection, will now be at risk of going under concrete.
[Ed. These policies were formalised in the ‘mini-budget’, to widespread condemnation]
15: Our independence
The Brexit con was supported by the slogan “take back control”, however, a recent Byline Times investigation makes clear that what it really meant was “give control to dark money and far right think tanks.” Then there are the trade deals that the Tories are salivating over. Any trade deal surrenders sovereignty in exchange for easier trade, but at least within the EU sovereignty was pooled equally. In any trade deal between a small and desperate country with a tanking economy, and a much larger more powerful one, the smaller country will be the one surrendering its sovereignty. Even the deal with New Zealand, a relatively small country.
16: The Tory Party
It’s not all bad news, thankfully. Only a minority of MPs backed Truss for the leadership, meaning there has never been a Tory PM who took office with less support within her parliamentary party. For a while, her MPs if not the country will no doubt grant her a honeymoon period, with platitudes like “she deserves a chance”. Yet as she drags her party further to the right than it has ever been, enacting economic policies that wiser heads within the party (of which there are many, and that’s not a complement to them) have stated will be a disaster, will some MPs get cold feet?
Johnson clearly hopes for a comeback, and will no doubt try to sow dissent while pretending to be loyal. Johnson was dubbed ‘Britain Trump’ but while the two men’s narcissism and incompetence undoubtedly bears comparison, in fact it is Truss who more closely echoes Trump’s politics (see especially 15 above). But unlike Trump, she does not have nearly half the electorate cheering her on. Between Johnson’s fecklessness and Truss’s extremism, dare we hope that the Tories will be cast into the political wilderness forever? If Starmer has the vision to introduce PR voting after the next election, then it is entirely conceivable that a new, sane centre-right party might rise up to occupy the ground Johnson and Truss have vacated, and British politics will be much the better for it.