The Winter of Our Discontent

the politics of Truss and turmoil

Forget celebrating the government’s screeching U-turn over plans to cut the top rate of tax on high earners.

The Truss administration is already a car crash with few survivors.

Once Tory MPs found that even in the most loyal areas they couldn’t go down the street without being abused, it was only a matter of time before the tax cut was ditched. For the moment attention turns to MPs who have made complete plonkers of themselves, trailing vacuous arguments in praise of the tax-cut from one TV interview to another. Serious politics, however, moves to a bigger stage.

Jihadi Jane

Comparisons between Liz Truss and Margaret Thatcher are fatuous. The only thing they have in common is that both are dead in the water. In all probability, Truss will not lead the Conservative Party into the next election. As a Leader, she is unlovable and unelectable. Under Conservative Party rules she cannot be challenged for at least a year. But don’t be surprised if, rising from the rubble of catastrophic poll ratings, Tory backbenchers organise a series of ‘save our own skins’ rebellions. Then a freshly cleansed Boris Johnson will ride back in to rescue Conservative Party fortunes. Jihadi Jane will have served her purpose.

Truss’s role is to facilitate the most brutal assault on socialised values Britain has seen in over 100 years. She is the front for an ideological project that makes Iran’s Ayatollahs look like Liberal Democrats. Truss will be dumped once democracy has been undermined. Until then she has a demolition job to do. And all her strings are pulled by free-trade fundamentalists in the ‘Tufton St Taliban’ advisory group that surrounds her.

Deconstructing democracy

Look at the measures trailed before a Conservative Conference desperate for anything to cheer.

The Chancellor’s Kami-Kwasi u-turn on top tax rates deflected attention from the £18bn of public spending cuts he also plans. Not to be out-done, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP pledged that all firms with less than 500 employees are to be excluded from business regulatory obligations. So, forget health and safety protection. Forget sick pay, fire safety rules, food hygiene standards and anti-discrimination policies. Forget holiday pay, maternity rights and sewage/environmental duties. There will be an unfettered race back into the Middle Ages, where Rees-Mogg prefers to live.

Riding in from another flank comes David Davies MP, erstwhile saviour of the NHS. Except that Davies is saying the NHS has been drained of so much funding, or sold off in contracts to the private sector, that it’s only prospect lies in conversion to a health insurance system. Roll on the USA, where half of all family/ personal bankruptcies are down to unaffordable, private health care bills.

And then there’s Fracking. Asked on local radio if the almost universal public rejection of Fracking meant that any application would not pass the ‘public consultation’ test, Truss sat on one of the longest radio pauses you are ever likely to hear. Those who had already bought the ear of the Conservative Party have no interest in ‘public consent’. They just want cash.

Be clear about this. Even if you ignore the climate/environmental damage it does, there is no economic case for Fracking in Britain. The Head of fracking company Cuadrilla admitted as much. So too did the US companies who terminated their Fracking trials in Poland. The problem is geological more than political.

Unlike the USA, Europe got ‘scrunched’ during the Ice Age. We do not have long, unbroken tectonic plates to drill through and ‘frack’. Across Europe, Fracking has methane ‘leakage’ rates of around 8% (making it more damaging than coal). It also makes the drilling unprofitable without big state subsidies. This is what Britain’s fossil-fuel, welfare state would demand too. As long as Fracking companies keep making donations to the Conservative Party, subsidies will follow. But nothing will lower household energy bills.

What the Government knows is that alternatives that would genuinely cut energy costs (and carbon emissions) would also break the corporate cartels that keep the Tories in power. The costs of wind and solar are falling faster than Tory promises. By giving priority to renewables, Europe’s household electricity prices are substantially lower than Britain’s.

Moreover, Britain’s rigged energy market holds everyone to ransom. Prices are set by the highest marginal cost (currently gas). But switch to ‘average’ cost pricing and the game immediately changes.

Companies using the most expensive energy sources lose money. Cheaper/cleaner energy becomes more attractive.

Add carbon taxes into the process and energy market transformation takes off. This is exactly what oil and gas companies dread.

For people and planet, it may be a life-saver, but for the Truss extremists it is the stuff of nightmares.

Tories for State Ownership

And here is the rub. Forget the rhetoric about opposing state ownership, the actual position of this Conservative government is almost the opposite. The Tories are ecstatic about state ownership of public services … as long as Britain is owned by other states, not our own.

In Truss’ Britain, the governments of Italy, Japan, Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada and Hong Kong are welcome to own Britain’s rail network … but not the UK government. The Conservatives are happy for France to own Britain’s nuclear industry (good luck to them!) and for the Danes and Norwegians to own half our offshore wind. But state ownership of renewables – by Britain, for Britain – is strictly taboo. Neoliberal fundamentalism demands, as an act of faith, that anything held by the UK government should be sold … even if it is to another government. Ideological fervour demands obedience, not intelligence.

The National ‘Trussed’?

Most people in Britain recoil in horror at the actions of Ayatollah Khamemei’s ‘morality police’ who brutally suppress the freedoms of Iranian women. Few see the connections with social coercion in Britain.

Truss bans King Charles from attending the COP27 conference and gets virtually no comeback. ‘Enough is Enough’ protests take place across the length and breadth of the country, but receive only the most cursory media coverage. ‘Just Stop Oil’ protests across London get virtually no coverage at all.

The car crash of a Conservative Party conference provided a distraction. Throughout it, free-trade, climate-denying fundamentalists were platformed as the new orthodoxies. Anti-poor, anti-planet positions were treated as mainstream conversations, not as the politics of fruitcakes and extremists.

But Truss’ crazies may have over-reached themselves. Their attempted coup within the National Trust seems to be backfiring. Spooked by hostile Trust reactions to proposed ditching of planning and environmental regulations and to how the Trust relates to Empire, the Tufton St Taliban pitched a slate of their own candidates into the National Trust Council elections. None declared their Tufton St connections but these were soon sniffed out. A membership backlash will hopefully reject them. But it’s the Taliban’s audacity/insanity that calls for attention.

Neither the National Trust, the RSPB, Buglife, nor any of Britain’s other pro-nature charities have a history of political entryism. None are seen as Trotskyist enclaves. None are even proscribed by the Labour Party. What makes them legitimate targets for Conservative radicals is exactly what drives Iran’s fundamentalists; the need to silence dissent.

Scaremongering: the anti-growth coalition

This brings you to Truss’ last refuge: fear. Reject her, Truss warns, and we will all perish in the arms of the anti-growth coalition. If you are going to lie, make it a big one.

For decades, economists like Tim Jackson have detailed the alternative route into post-growth prosperity. Kate Roworth’s ‘doughnut’ economics does the same. And a legion of climate scientists are pleading with us to grasp that ‘circularity’ offers the only route to human survival.

It isn’t enough to reject everything Truss stands for. The moment calls for bigger visions and bolder leadership. Climate physicist, Kevin Anderson, put it in a nutshell – “there are no non-radical futures”

We either make huge, rapid shifts into a more circular economics that puts back more than it takes out (and slashes emissions as we do) or perish within the embrace of free-market orthodoxies.

Forget Truss.The moment cries out for a new (visionary) Coalition of the Willing. The question is: are we up for it?

Alan Simpson


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