WORLD Difficult days for UK's Truss despite policy U-turn


Difficult days for UK's Truss despite policy U-turn

China Daily

11:54, October 19, 2022

British Prime Minister Liz Truss attends a news conference in London, Britain, October 14, 2022. [Photo:Agencies]

Britain's Prime Minister Liz Truss has had a tumultuous first month in office, with reports of party infighting, alongside the backlash and economic crisis stirred up by her former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng's mini-budget.

Jeremy Hunt replaced Kwarteng on Friday and reversed most of his minibudget policies on Monday.

Julio Crespo-MacLennan, a professor at IE School of Global and Public Aff airs in Spain, said Truss had taken bold steps to tackle the economic and cost-of-living crises, including a reduction in taxes and incentives for the financial services industry.

But he said they could "only be achieved at the cost of reducing benefits and deteriorating public services in the short run, which caused public indignation and has provoked a temporary crash in the pound sterling".

"This is what has put her premiership in turmoil, but as an admirer of Margaret Thatcher, she knows that unpopular measures have to be implemented without hesitation, hoping that positive effects will be seen in the near future," Crespo-MacLennan said.

But Truss's drastic measures have come at an untoward time, with the British economy suffering a contraction and the cost-of-living crisis having already pushed working people to the limits.

The country's GDP fell 0.3 percent in August compared to July, according to the latest government data, suggesting that it could be sliding into recession.

Worse, there was growing opposition to the prime minister's policies, mainly the tax cuts, within the Conservative Party.

Wyn Grant, professor of politics at the University of Warwick, said Truss will now have to try and rebuild party unity.

"It is bad as she has lost the confidence of large parts of the parliamentary party and also the public," Grant said. "The central problem was putting forward a mini-budget that included large unfunded tax cuts and lost the confidence of the financial markets."

The Truss premiership has been filled with political turmoil, including what political commentators describe as a catastrophic Conservative Party conference.

"The party conference was acrimonious," said Phil Catney, a senior lecturer in politics at Keele University in the United Kingdom. "There were senior politicians, members of the government, arguing with each other and disagreeing on policy issues, there is supposed to be something called collective Cabinet responsibility, that is, they don't argue in public."

Truss's radical and ideological projects will be an ongoing problem and a source of tension during the winter, Catney noted, adding that there will be more tough decisions on issues including welfare spending and efforts to alleviate poverty.

However, tensions had been running high within the party even before the release of the mini-budget.

"The mini-budget certainly was a source of discontent inside the party, but for the parliamentary party, we have to remember that they didn't want Truss as a first-choice candidate; she was struggling to get through until the very final round, so the parliamentary party did not want her necessarily as a leader, but the grassroots did. So, there's a source of tension here," Catney said.

He said some of Truss's problems stem from the prime minister not being a very good listener and because she makes decisions from Number 10 and Number 11 Downing Street without discussions with colleagues inside government and with the wider civil service.

But experts said it is doubtful there will be another leadership change within the Conservative Party any time soon.

"It is very unlikely that there will be another change of leadership. Truss is the fourth Conservative Party leader in six years, since the Brexit referendum," said Crespo-MacLennan. "The party cannot afford another change. Liz Truss knows that she will lead the party until the next general election and she needs to focus on her government program."

Grant added: "Conservatives would like to avoid another leadership contest, which would be humiliating and further open up divisions in the party. She has to hope for good fortune in terms of economic news, but that looks unlikely."

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