Truss in trouble

The spectacular implosion of the Liz Truss premiership continues in the UK. Given that she came into the premiership on September 5th with just a little over two years before she had to face a general election, she seemed to have decided to make her mark quickly and start out with a bang, introducing major changes in the country’s finances almost immediately. The mini-budget she introduced along with her treasury secretary Kwasi Kwarteng on September 23, less than three weeks after taking office (about ten days of which were consumed with the death and funeral of the Queen), was a supply-sider’s wish list with cuts in corporate taxes and the top rate for individuals that would benefit the wealthy, along with cuts in benefits and services that would adversely affect those in the lower income brackets.

But she seemed to have made the mistake of not gauging the possible reaction to the fact that this would lead to large deficits. She and Kwarteng seem to be true believers in the existence of supply side fairies who would create massive new growth that would take care of things. The financial markets were not so sanguine and the massive blowback in the bond markets and the drop in the value of the currency led to her and Kwarteng abruptly reversing the planned cuts in the top individual tax rates. But she still faced a party rebellion and yesterday she made another abrupt reversal, scrapping the planned corporate tax cut. She also made a somewhat ambiguous statement about her plans to reduce the increase in benefits, saying in parliament that those benefits would rise with inflation before later seeming to hedge on the issue.

She then fired Kwarteng and replaced him with Jeremy Hunt. It is extraordinary that Hunt will be the fourth Chancellor in a little over three months. After Rishi Sunak resigned the post on July 5th helping to trigger the fall of Boris Johnson as prime minister, there was Nadhim Zahavi until September 6th, and then Kwarteng until yesterday.

Truss clearly felt forced to accept the negative verdict on her policies from so many influential sectors of the economy but making such huge reversals under pressure makes her look weak while also angering those who liked her moves and wanted her to hang tough. Her press conference the following day that lasted for just eight minutes and where she left abruptly after taking just four questions also did not inspire confidence, since she seemed vague and robotic in her answers.

Her leadership is in peril and speculation is growing that she will be ousted soon. It seems likely that her fate will be determined by the reaction in the financial markets in the. next few weeks, since that is what matters to the people that matter.

The Conservatives are in a tough spot. Their poll numbers are tanking because of the perception that they have lost the plot and trashed their brand as safe stewards of the economy. Truss is failing to inspire confidence in the party or the nation and many would like her gone but changing the party leader yet again so soon after the Johnson fiasco carries its own risks of adding to the image of a party that is rudderless and drifting. In the cut-throat world of insider politics in the UK, you can be sure that there are aspirants to the prime ministership who are sharpening their knives, ready to cut her loose if the opportunity should arise so that they can take the top spot.


  1. ardipithecus says

    When they got rid of Johnson, they thought the replacement could not possibly be worse. Now they are faced with the fact that ‘couldn’t possibly be worse’ is not supported by evidence, not even re Liz Truss.

  2. KG says

    It’s rumoured that a delegation of “Tory grandees” plans to visit Truss this weekend and present her with the traditional bottle of whisky and loaded revolver. These days, she’s not expected to actually shoot herself, but simply tender her resignation. However I’m somewhat sceptical, because they surely can’t be contemplating another 10-week-long leadership contest, during which Truss would have to stay in office. (There is no provision for a “caretaker Prime Minister” in the constitution we don’t have, which is why Johnson stayed on while the party elected Truss.) So they would have to have agreed on a replacement, and be confident the swivel-eyed loons who still support Truss, the Johnson fan club, the Sunakites, and Uncle Tom Cobley would all accept that person.

    The “Tory grandees” used to be called “The men in grey suits”, who would visit a Tory leader who had lost support and inform him (it was always him, and they were always all men) that he was resigning, and who would succeed him. That system was abandoned some decades ago, and the Tory MPs chose the leader (I think Thatcher was the first to be chosen this way). Then, at some point I don’t recall, they adopted the current system, whereby the MPs choose two candidates (in a series of votes, eliminating one or more losing candidates in each round) and the party members then get to choose between them. Sunak had more votes than Truss in every round of the MPs’ voting, and Truss only got into the top two places in the last round, collecting the swivel-eyed loon vote from the other S-EL candidate left in, Kemi Badenoch, and so overtaking Penny Mordaunt. Sunak, Mordaunt, the new Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, and FFS Johnson have all been touted as replacements for Truss.

  3. KG says

    Further to #2, all the leaders of significant opposition parties are now calling for a general election, but they have no means of forcing one, as the Tories still have an overall majority (of about 68, I haven’t checked the exact figure) in the Commons. The Tories know that they would be completely trashed if there was a GE now, with most of them losing their seats and Starmer’s Labour getting a big majority. Many of them will have concluded that they are bound to lose the next GE even if they hang on to the last possible moment (which is sometime in January 2025), so it’s just possible some will think: “Fuck it, let’s get it over with, and get back to making some serious money”, if they have lucrative positions in hedge funds, arms manufacturers, Big Pharma or whatever lined up -- Starmer has made clear he wouldn’t be making any radical moves left if elected. In that case, they could support a Labour Vote of No Confidence in the Commons, and not stand for re-election in their constituencies, presenting the move as patriotic (which, arguably, it would be -- two more years of this chaos could well see the economy gurgle down the tubes completely) and self-sacrificing. But I think it unlikely enough would do this. Or a group might break away to form a new party, or just join Labour, putting Starmer in as PM without an election -- again, unlikely, and most likely he’d ask Charles Windsor for one as soon as he was made PM. Or Truss herself could go for a kamikazi option, asking CW for an election -- even more unlikely, but so was the complete idiocy that put her in her current plight.

    So, all these options seem implausible -- but so does it seem implausible Truss can possibly remain in office. I have a hunch a lot of Tory MPs are secretly hoping Putin will use a nuke in Ukraine, enabling them to invite Starmer to join -- or even lead -- a GNU*, in circumstances where it would be hard for him to refuse.

    *Government of National Unity

  4. Mano Singham says


    Thanks for those very informative comments. I had no idea that they actually gave the doomed leader a bottle of whiskey and a revolver, even if that was meant symbolically.

    As to a transition, I have read reports that the party could have an election for a new leader but have an agreement that when it comes down to just two people, the second person would withdraw in favor of the first, thus avoiding the long process of canvassing votes from the party members at large. So basically, the new PM would have the support of just the majority of Conservative MPs.

    As you say, all these scenarios seem unlikely. Truss’s only hope for staying in power is that the alternatives are even worse.

  5. blf says

    KG has also — very usefully and helpfully — pointed out elsewhere here at FtB, that Truss, Kwarteng, and three others wrote a book released almost exactly ten years ago, called Britannia Unchained. In that book — which was very very obscure until recent events — the authors argued for the sorts of things they tried to do in teh “U”K with the so-called “mini-budget” and other recently-announced policies.

    The other three authours were Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, and Chris Skidmore (who is the only one I didn’t immediately recognise), all of whom ran amok at one time or another inside Johnson’s cabinet.

    I have elsewhere suggested calling this apparent blueprint for the recent events Meine Katastrophe.

  6. ardipithecus says

    It’s a reflection of a problematic trend all over the world, to varying degrees. Championed by the Republicans in the US, it is the tendency to nominate candidates who they expect to be good at getting elected, but haven’t a clue how to run a government. A covey or herd or fuckup (whatever the term is) of bumbling buffoons who will do literally anything to hold on to power.

    Although we’ve largely escaped that here in Canada, the election of Pierre Poilievre as leader of the Conservative party shows we are headed in the same direction.

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    KG @ # 2: … the traditional bottle of whisky and loaded revolver.

    Presumably metaphorical. I did a search and came up with little more than this (long but highly digressive) thread, which suggests that (a) this alludes to British Army traditions for upper-crust officers facing family-disgrace-level scandals; (b) ideally the revolver has a single cartridge, and a pearl handle; (c) of the known officers’ suicides, no encouragement [or bottles] have gone on record; and (d) whiskey has not been served in bottles for much more than a couple of centuries, but that custom clearly predates the invention of revolvers.

    Perhaps the Tories would do better in historical* terms by providing Prime Minister Truss with a sharp sword and some contrivance to hold it upright for self-throwing-upon.

    *If not grammatical.

  8. mnb0 says

    “she is likely to be ousted soon.”
    A few months. Ousting her now will make the conservatives who voted for her look ridiculous.

  9. KG says

    I had no idea that they actually gave the doomed leader a bottle of whiskey and a revolver, even if that was meant symbolically. -- Mano Singham@4

    Sorry Mano, I should have signalled that that was a joke. Given the frequently bizarre nature of British traditions, it’s apparently not quite implausible enough for that to be obvious! Pierce R. Butler@7 is right about the joke’s origin. Both disgraced officers and failing Tory PMs were historically assumed to be “gentlemen”, and thus expected to “take the honourable way out”; I just conflated the two situations.

    What you say applies well to Johnson, rather less so to Truss. Johnson was supported by the majority of Tory MPs (their support then confirmed by the party members’ vote) because they thought, rightly, that he would win them an election. Truss was not the choice of most Tory MPs -- it was the members’ vote that put her in over Rishi Sunak -- and completely lacks Johnson’s (fake) bonhomie (some Tory associate of Johnson said something like “Everyone likes Johnson, except those who know him”), “Trussbot” being a soubriquet for her, IIRC, well before she became PM. But so does Sunak lack popular appeal, although he was temporarily popular while giving out large amounts of money at the height of the pandemic.

    Ousting her now will make the conservatives who voted for her look ridiculous. -- mnbo@8

    Oh, that’s been achieved already. So they might prefer to drop her down the memory hole* a.s.a.p.

    *Just in case -- this is a 1984 allusion!

  10. birgerjohansson says

    I regularly listen to the podcast “A different bias” at Youtube.
    He mentioned that a recent poll showed the tories would only get four (4) seats in parliament if elections were held today!
    That is less than SNP. That is less than the goddamn DUP!
    Let them crash and burn.

  11. sonofrojblake says

    her treasury secretary Kwasi Kwarteng

    “treasury secretary” is a different job, held by Chris Philp until he was stabbed (metaphorically) at the same time as Kwarteng.

    Kwarteng was Chancellor of the Exchequer, literally the second most important job in the UK government after PM. Prime Minister Gordon Brown was Chancellor of the Exchequer for eleven years under Tony Blair. Liz Truss fired Kwarteng after 38 DAYS, making him the second-shortest-serving Chancellor since the war, beaten only by a guy LITERALLY (not metaphorically, just to be clear) died in office.

    Just for context, do please remember that Jeremy Hunt’s full name is “Jeremy Hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhunt-you-have-to-be-so-careful”, since there’s a quite illustrious list of British broadcasters who’ve said, live on air, what we’re all thinking and call him Jeremy Cunt. Never, ever, even once, has anyone used any of the othe nineteen available consonants instead of the H. Just Cunt, every single time. Never Bunt. Never Gunt. Never Junt. Possibly, in fairness, K. Never Punt, which is actually surname. Again, in fairness, possibly Q. Never Runt. But realistically, every single one of the people who’s got his name wrong on live broadcasts has got it wrong exactly the same way. It’s almost as if they all think he’s a cunt or something. Incidentally, national treasure and zero-fucks-giver Miriam Margolyes was interviewed on the Today programme the same day as Jeremy Hhhhhhhunt-you-have-to-be-so-careful, and did NOT get his name wrong. She did, however, tell the interviewers live on air that she’d been polite to him in the corridor despite want to say -- and she said this live on air -- “Fuck you, bastard.”. She’s a charming woman and everyone likes her.


    she seemed vague and robotic

    That’s because she IS vague and robotic. She has always been vague and robotic. This is not a new feature, she’s not fazed by the responsibility or suffering stress or anything -- this is what she’s like. Anyone who’s met her or dealt with her reports the same manner, even socially.

    At this point, Sunak can simply remain silent and look like he’s saying “I told you so”. Nevertheless, if the Tories put him into power, they’ve got the problem that he’s married to a tax-avoiding billionaire -- it’s not a good look. Alternative leadership candidates realistically include Hhhhhhhunt-you-have-to-be-so-careful, Michael “had enough of experts” Gove, and… yes, Johnson again.

    And here’s what I think: Johnson is the Tories’ only chance. They’ve cooked their goose on their reputation for fiscal responsibility, but that was never Johnson’s schtick anyway. His image is one of buffoonish likeability, something nobody else in the Tory party understands, much less can imitate. Nobody in the current opposition can fight it, either. Starmer is a safe pair of hands, but the thick-as-pigshit British electorate, given a choice between a man who will insulate their loft and a man who will take them to the pub and then kick them in the balls to avoid paying his half of the bar tab, will pick the bloke who suggests going to the pub, because how boring is insulating the loft, eh? It’s possible Johnson has more patience, and will allow another Tory leader to fuck it up even more and lose an election before “reluctantly” agreeing to come back and restrict the next Labour government to one term.

    I’m not saying it will happen, I’m just saying don’t bet against it. Alexander Johnson is like Trump in many ways -- venal, self-serving, lazy and entitled. What he is not is stupid. Don’t write him off yet, and remember that Liz Truss is openly despised by a majority of her own party, and more importantly that statement was true before the disaster of her actual premiership. People don’t viscerally despite Johnson…. unless they’ve met him.

  12. KG says

    Frther to #2 and #3:
    Senior Tories hold talks to discuss ousting Liz Truss to ‘rescue’ party.
    According to the linked Grauniad article:

    In a rearguard action to prop up the prime minister, her cabinet allies tonight warned MPs they would precipitate an election and ensure the Tories were “finished as a party” if they toppled a second leader in just a few months.

    The wording is not clear whether that means a general election, or a new Tory leadership election, although later parts of the article suggest the latter. At any rate, it does seem clear we’re in for a further bout of Tory chaos next week. All very amusing, certainly, but the Truss-Kwarteng comedy duo apparently very nearly caused the collapse of the British financial system with their “fiscal event”, and as it is, millions of people are going to be in dire straits over the next year.

  13. jrkrideau says

    @ 2 KG
    There is no provision for a “caretaker Prime Minister” in the constitution we don’t have, which is why Johnson stayed on while the party elected Truss.

    Well, if you want to go for a full constitutional fuck-up, the King probably could call on any member of parliament to form a government.

  14. lanir says

    seem to be true believers in the existence of supply side fairies

    I don’t know what you’re talking about the faeries are real. They’re formed by folding the money of poor and middle class people before you make it all fly away through austerity measures that everyone must share. Except for the very rich. Can’t touch them, they’re the “job creators” so the whole economy would obviously fail if they paid their fair share. You know, more than it already did thanks to stealing everyone else’s money and giving it to them.

  15. sonofrojblake says

    This thread just popped up for some reason on a search. I’m just going to react to the funniest thing in it:

    #8, mnb0:

    “she is likely to be ousted soon.”
    A few months. Ousting her now will make the conservatives who voted for her look ridiculous.

    In case anyone has forgotten, she “resigned” five DAYS after that comment was posted. As if the conservatives who voted for her could have looked any more ridiculous than they already did.

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