There are various ways you could sum up the new government to an outsider. It is vocally opposed to the nanny state, but its business secretary still has a nanny. He is 53. Prime minister Liz Truss is “prepared to be unpopular”. That feels fortunate. I’m prepared not to be cast as the new Batman. Among Conservative MPs, Truss is about as popular as anthrax, or a midweek visit from their wives. The PM keeps explaining she’s going to do everything differently, and her economic policy possibly makes best sense as a defence policy. She is casting the UK as a country too mad to nuke. It’s not classical game theory, is it? But maybe we’re just playing Buckaroo.
High-handed funeral gurner Kwasi Kwarteng this morning unveiled his massive mini-budget, described in advance as containing “more rabbits than Watership Down”. Which is a cheery image, though perhaps also apt for something many experts fear could inflict generational trauma. As part of its war on spoilers, the government has declined to have these radically expensive plans costed by the Office for Budget Responsibility, which conforms to the it-can-always-get-worse rule of contemporary British politics. We could soon be begging to go back to the days when prime ministers only bought gold wallpaper they couldn’t afford.
Lowlights of the week? Jacob Rees-Mogg accused opponents of fracking of “sheer ludditery”, which means so much more from a man whose Fitbit is a carriage clock, and who makes his secretary type on a spinning jenny. The presence of Rees-Mogg in the key quad of Truss’s ministers really is something, given all his gaffes, given the fact he has never “delivered” in any previous job at all, and given he has to be lowered into a priest hole for the duration of every election campaign the Conservatives actually want to win. Yet Mogg has never been more important than he is now. Maybe the Tories really are trying to throw it; the mere presence of his name on the teamsheet screams “far east betting syndicate”.
Either way, the future of British business is now in the hands of someone who looks like they were forced to buy a Rubie’s cabinet minister costume on Amazon the day before the school assembly. No one has been more publicly insulted by their tailor since two swindlers turned up in front of a European emperor and offered to spin him some new clothes. Mogg comes across like he’s escaped from some knock-off live Cluedo event, where they’re not allowed to use the brand name and his character is called Lord Purple. It says something about the scale of peril the country’s in that our best hope is him being injuncted by Hasbro.
In New York on Tuesday, Truss began outlining her policies at the top of the Empire State Building, like someone really leaning into a Queen Kong metaphor. Having had some kind of vocal circuitry malfunction during the section where she explained why removing the cap on bankers’ bonuses was a priority, the prime minister declared that “lower taxes lead to economic growth, there is no doubt in my mind about that”. Is this like when there was no doubt in her mind that Brexit was a disaster for the UK? The encouraging theme of her premiership thus far is: everything I defended in cabinet for eight years was appalling and wrong.
For all Truss’s big ideas, she remains sensationally petty – it emerged on Thursday that despite telling Grant Shapps she thought he was a highly competent minister and perhaps the government’s best communicator, she was still going to sack him. He hadn’t backed her in the leadership contest, she explained, and so there was “no room at the inn”. In unrelated news, Thérèse Coffey vaguely hopes no one will have to wait more than two weeks to give birth in a stable.
I’m not saying Britain has committed entirely to regression, but people are so desperate for competence that earlier in the week, some reacted to the hitchless spectacle of the Queen’s funeral by suggesting its organiser, the 18th Duke of Norfolk, be brought in to run any number of failing firms or government departments. It feels interesting that the country is at the bargaining stage of its death-spiral politics, wondering – in the apparent absence of anyone else being able to do it – whether an unelected chap in full brocade and a plumed hat could get the sewage off its beaches and out of its rivers, or deliver a large-scale infrastructure project in the north-east. Is feudalism the new populism? I guess we’ll try anything twice.
In the meantime, we are where we are. With the exception of the shock abolition of the 45% top rate of income tax, all today’s budgetary measures had been trailed in advance. Liz Truss’s government leaks like … well, it leaks like Liz Truss, which is the international gold standard by which even sieves are measured. As for the overwhelming import of the new chancellor’s outsize mini-budget: if you are very rich, you are now richer. If you are poor, it’s time to ask yourself the pertinent question: had you thought of simply being rich instead? The pound responded to the measures announced with a perfect swallow dive to which even the Russian judge is likely to award the full 10 points, while the cost of government borrowing is rising sharply. So hold on to your hats, plumed or otherwise. As part of their streamlining drive, it’s possible that Kwarteng and Truss have – quite brilliantly, of course – eliminated the boom from boom-and-bust.