By Daily Mail Comment
The day after Tory MPs ousted Boris Johnson from Downing Street, this newspaper asked on its front page: ‘What the hell have they done?’
Never has this despairing question seemed more prescient and more relevant than it is this morning.
For months the Mail had argued that getting rid of Mr Johnson was absurd and out of proportion. Here was a proven leader — a winner of elections, a man of decisive action — being levered out of office by lesser colleagues because of a series of essentially trivial misdemeanours.
And how much more trivial they look now as we survey the current state of the Government, and of the country.
We argued that unseating Mr Johnson would be a huge mistake, not least because there simply was no obvious candidate to succeed him. Mr Johnson was unique in modern British politics, a man of stature and magnetism, capable of reaching people who were not of his party and who might not normally even have been interested in politics.
No doubt he had the faults to match, as his detractors never failed to point out, but which major figure in history has been faultless? Many of our greatest men and women have been deeply flawed, yet still did much good. Adults have always understood that.
Alas, nobody can pretend that Miss Truss’s few frantic weeks in Downing Street have fulfilled the promise she seemed to show
But to their lasting shame (as many of them may now be realising), Tory MPs and ministers combined to get rid of him — and they are now paying the bitter price.
Thanks to them, a country with more important things on its mind, including a European war, an energy crisis and the worst bout of inflation for nearly 40 years, was forced to endure an unedifying and bizarre leadership contest, in which the people of the United Kingdom reasonably felt they were being ignored and left out.
Tory MPs indulged in a series of wild surges of enthusiasm for one candidate or another, followed by equally capricious switches of allegiance.
In the end, they passed the decision to that great unknown, the Tory Party membership, all too easily dismissed as unrepresentative and out of touch. They chose Liz Truss.
The Mail supported that choice for clear reasons. Firstly, and fundamentally, because we believed in her tax-cutting agenda, which lies at the heart of Tory philosophy. We also believed that she was personally opposed to the failed Blairite consensus which has left this country with low growth and high taxes, the negation of the achievements of the Margaret Thatcher era.
But alas, nobody can pretend that Miss Truss’s few frantic weeks in Downing Street have fulfilled the promise she seemed to show. On the contrary, it is impossible to argue that her premiership thus far has been anything other than a disaster.
Yet it need not have been. The notorious mini-Budget which derailed her contained many perfectly reasonable and defensible measures. The cancellation of increases in corporation tax (now reversed) was wise and beneficial. So was the annulling of proposed rises in National Insurance. This newspaper had campaigned for both these actions, for many months. The cutting of tax rates was also right in principle.
But Miss Truss and her then Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, made three great blunders. First, they produced some plans out of a clear blue sky, spooking the markets and setting off a series of economic consequences — especially a rise in mortgage rates — which they never intended, and which will be highly damaging to the Government perhaps for years to come.
Second, Miss Truss and Mr Kwarteng cooked up the document between themselves, failing to consult the wiser heads who might have warned them of the wider consequences of their plans, and of the political dangers inherent in some of them.
Third, they planned its launch and timing so badly that they failed completely to explain or defend it before it — and they — were engulfed in hostile criticism.
Since then, disaster has followed disaster. Tory discipline has flown out of the window. Sensing the growing weakness of Miss Truss’s leadership, Conservative MPs have returned to their old bad habits of self-aggrandisement and pushing their own personal desires, forgetting that a party which does not pull together quickly loses public support.
Authority has drained away from Downing Street, leaving Miss Truss in office but absolutely not in power. And yesterday the shrivelling of her Government accelerated, with the brutal departure of the Chancellor and a strange U-turn on corporation tax. This was one of the few parts of the mini-Budget which had wide support among Tories and in the world of business.
Mr Kwarteng was sacked by Liz Truss for following Liz Truss’s own policy. How does this make sense?
As for what was surely the dismissal of Kwasi Kwarteng, how can anyone applaud it? Mr Kwarteng was sacked by Liz Truss for following Liz Truss’s own policy. How does this make sense?
Can the process end there? Once the knives come out in high politics, the person who first wields the blade is in grave danger of being the victim soon afterwards.
It is hard to see how this catastrophe can be undone by the appointment of Jeremy Hunt as Chancellor. He is a safe pair of hands, for sure, with plenty of ministerial experience, but he hardly shares Miss Truss’s politics and he is a figure of the Tory past who has twice failed to become leader.
To anyone who cares about the good government of this country, the Prime Minister’s press conference yesterday was profoundly saddening. It would be inhuman not to sympathise with a person in her dire position, but it was demeaning to watch Miss Truss hesitantly fumbling her way through an attempted justification of the immense mess into which she has got herself, the Government, the Tory party and the country.
And then she submitted — as perhaps she would have been wiser not to do — to a series of harsh but ultimately justifiable questions about whether her own position was tenable.
She must surely have known something of the sort would come about, but she responded only with formulaic slogans about ‘getting through the storm’, all the more alarming when the ship’s bridge is almost underwater and the sea is rising.
Even Liz Truss’s most loyal allies, viewing the matter through the most rose-tinted glasses available, must now wonder how she can survive. Yet what is the alternative? Another interminable leadership election of the sort we have just endured would be impossible, and might come up with an answer just as misguided as it provided the first time around.
Where there’s life there’s hope and, of course, it’s still just possible that Miss Truss, one of the Tory party’s great survivors, may pull off some kind of miracle recovery.
But if she doesn’t get her act together — and lightning fast — the message will surely spread throughout the Tory party that the only conceivable hope of winning the next election lies in an intelligent, swift and universally accepted resolution of this crisis.
This is the only alternative to despair, and history tells us that we must never let that take hold. Surely there are, in our governing party, men and women of judgment and sense, not given to panic but with the best interests of the country at heart.
The day may come when it’s time for them to assert themselves — and for the grown-ups to take charge.
Published by Associated Newspapers Ltd
Part of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday & Metro Media Group