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Good morning. There’s a principle that Tony Blair sets out in his foreword to Philip Gould’s The Unfinished Revolution that came to mind listening to Liz Truss’s speech to the Institute for Government think-tank yesterday: “start with an honest analysis of why you are in opposition, not in government”.
Truss might sit on the Conservative backbenches, but in every meaningful sense she is in opposition to Rishi Sunak’s government. And certainly she has managed to come up with an analysis of what she sincerely believes is at fault — but it’s one that ducks some of her thorniest problems.
Given that Truss’s faction will be a major player if the Conservatives do go into opposition, that decision (and what it says about Tory party politics in general) is worth examining, because it tells us a bit about the pressures of opposition.
And are these woke markets in the room with us now?
There was an intriguing moment in Liz Truss’s speech to the Institute for Government yesterday (no, really, trust me on this). It was when she acknowledged, albeit briefly, that one of her problems during her brief premiership was that the Conservative party wouldn’t wear it.
There were so many things that went wrong in Truss’s “mini” Budget (and indeed in her mini premiership) that identifying each and every one is a bit of a fool’s errand.
But one reason why her programme of tax cuts and open-ended energy price cap was foolhardy was that there was never any prospect that Conservative MPs were going to sign off on the £35bn in spending cuts she planned to carry out. That reality is what brought Truss to ruin. It was not the “anti-growth” coalition, the civil servants chasing net zero (otherwise known as a target enshrined into law by a Conservative government and one of the few policy commitments in Boris Johnson’s pared back 2019 manifesto), the woke bond traders, the Brownites in the civil service, the London dinner party circuit or the FT editorial board.
If the Tory right want to repeat the Truss experiment, the one thing they have some control over is the ability to secure a parliamentary party that actually wants to deliver spending cuts. But there’s no percentage in saying that, so instead we got a deeply incoherent speech. (My favourite example being Truss’s claim that part of the problem is that rightwing economists had left academia to earn a living in financial services after the end of the cold war. Presumably these rightwing traders had all taken the day off on the day of Truss’s “mini” Budget.)
The first problem for the Trussites is that they can’t persuade enough of their colleagues to vote for this stuff. (A related problem is that one reason why Tory MPs are reluctant to vote for this stuff is there is no constituency for it in the country, but that’s an issue for another time.)
But the second problem is that it is easier, and much more congenial, to point the finger of blame outside the Conservative party than it is inside of it. This is largely because if your aim is continued relevance in internal Tory party politics then it is easier all round just to not ask difficult questions. (Indeed, this is true of internal party politics full stop.)
Although you can’t do very much in opposition, you can criticise essentially everything, which when you have been in office for 13 years starts to look awfully attractive. Freed from office, the Conservative party will be able to call for lower immigration without having to find the money to attract more social care workers or weather the knock-on economic costs. They will be able to call for tax cuts without having to find spending cuts or face a market panic. And they’ll be able to talk about problems created by their own internal divisions without having to pick fights with other Tories.
One thing that forces opposition parties to start confronting their real problems — as Labour has now begun to do — is that they don’t enjoy irrelevance. But in opposition, Conservative MPs will have plenty of shots at relevance: thanks to slots on GB News and elsewhere in the rightwing media sphere. That makes comforting analyses such as “it was the Blairite civil servants wot done it” more powerful than they otherwise might be. One reason to think the Conservatives will turn sharply to the right in opposition is that the challenges Keir Starmer will inherit look sufficiently large that many Tories think they can return to office after one term. The other is that the incentives to blame external enemies for internal problems, which are always strong in opposition, have become much more so since the last time the Tory party was in opposition.
Now try this
This week, I mostly listened to Supertramp’s The Logical Song while writing my column on Bradley Cooper’s prosthetic in the new Leonard Bernstein biopic, and the lessons it holds about how leaders should deal with complaints. (I don’t fully understand how my brain works either. I don’t particularly care for Supertramp but anywhere, there it is.)
Some of you have asked if we can collate these in a Spotify playlist, perhaps as a sign of what to avoid. There are doubtless some gaps but this is, hopefully, a fairly exhaustive one that I’ll add to each week. So now you can get a musical answer to the question “what possessed him to write this drivel?!” For a good idea of what I listen to while I’m writing this email, check out Radio 3’s excellent Night Tracks programme.
Top stories today
The French re-patch | Emmanuel Macron, the French president, will meet Keir Starmer in Paris today, as the UK opposition leader faces claims he is looking to take Britain “back to square one on Brexit”.
Can Starmer reset Britain’s Brexit deal? | Although he described the deal negotiated by then prime minister Boris Johnson in 2020 as “far too thin”, he has ruled out forming a customs union with the EU and seeking membership of the single market. What could the Labour leader achieve within the Brexit “red lines” that he has set himself?
Gove-appointed commissioners to run Birmingham council | Levelling-up secretary Michael Gove will move to appoint commissioners to take over the day-to-day running of Birmingham city council’s financial affairs and are expected to sell off assets to raise money — potentially including the city library, land and its stake in Birmingham airport — after the local authority declared itself in effect bankrupt.
Right and wrong | TV channel GB News breached impartiality rules by airing an interview with UK chancellor Jeremy Hunt that was conducted by two other Conservative MPs, according to the country’s media watchdog.
‘Debanking’ of politicians debunked in FCA probe | A review by the chief UK financial regulator has uncovered no evidence that politicians are being denied bank accounts because of their views, according to people briefed on the findings.
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