Who wants to lead the crumbling kingdom? Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak and the choice without a choice

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak are the main political figures in the spectacle played after Johnson’s resignation. Who of them wins power over the party? The duet has a lot in common: their political platforms are fairly the same, and their popularity among the voters remains low. No revolution here – just an extension of extreme neoliberalism. 

The resignation of Boris Johnson and his masquerade style politics have put the United Kingdom into another period of dismay. After the resignation of Theresa May, Brexit, war in Ukraine and skyrocketing gas prices, Johnson turned out to be yet another Egyptian plague. What comes after him?

None of the candidates looks like a person who really understands the dimensions of current crisis – not to mention offering substantial solutions.

Rishy Dishi Sunak

Sunak was working before in finance in an investment bank and co-founded a hedge fund before entering politics. He was educated at Winchester College. He subsequently read philosophy, politics and economics at Lincoln College, Oxford, and later gained an MBA from Stanford University in California. In October 2014 he was selected as the Conservative candidate for Richmond, defeating Wendy Morton. The seat is one of the safest Conservative seats in the United Kingdom and has been held by the party for over 100 years. 

Sunak supported Brexit when it came to the 2016 referendum. Re-elected at the 2017 general election, he won an increased majority of 23,108 (40.5%). In 2019 he bet on Boris Johnson and even wrote the article with an all-saying title: “The Tories are in deep peril. Only Boris Johnson can save us” in cooperation with some other young stars, Robert Jenrick and Oliver Dowden. As we all know his bromance with BoJo ended in blood, Rishy Dishi decided to kill him like Brutus killed Caesar.  

On 5 July 2022, Sunak resigned as chancellor moments after Sajid Javid resigned as health secretary, all amid a controversy surrounding the sexual harassment allegations against Chris Pincher MP. 

In his resignation letter Sunak said:

“the public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously. I recognise this may be my last ministerial job, but I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning… In preparation for our proposed joint speech on the economy next week, it has become clear to me that our approaches are fundamentally too different.”

But it was in the middle of a global health crisis, when Rishi Sunak rose from obscurity to become one of the most powerful figures in British politics.

It was 2020 when he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer. Before that he had been Chief Secretary to the Treasury since July 2019. He soon became very popular, especially in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic – of course by the standards of British politics. 

He was described by one analyst as having “better ratings than any politician since the heydays of Tony Blair”. 

And no scandal has damaged it. His wife Akshata Murty is the daughter of N. R. Narayana Murthy, the Indian billionaire businessman who founded Infosys, which makes business in Russia. In November 2020, Sunak was reported by The Guardian to have not declared a significant amount of his wife and family’s financial interests on the register of ministers’ interests, including a combined £1.7 billion shareholding in the Indian company Infosys. The independent adviser on ministers’ interests investigated and concluded that Sunak had not broken any rules.  But his wife also was involved in some tax evasion schemes and partying during COVID-19 pandemia. 

In July 2020 little more than 50% of Britons thought of Rishi Sunak in a positive way. Following his emergency package to protect jobs, around 60% voters felt that way. Being sexy and young made it easy for him, especially when your sexual image can be used as a progressive phenomenon. And playing with sex appeal, style and gender was always done by the Tories rather than Labour. His daily briefings on coronavirus and speeches about the state of the economy let him use that advantage in every way, pathing the road to the phenomenon of posh white women posting on public platforms about his appearances, with his “Rishy Dishi” nickname popularised.

In September 2020 the media started suggesting that he was, apparently, best suited to become next Prime Minister – a really fast way for the most powerful role in British politics. Or maybe just a spark of how inflated this position has become?

As Express has put it: “his future Tory leadership hopes were boosted when the poll suggested voters rated him above Boris Johnson for being “good in a crisis” and having sound judgement”. 

These personal attributes – from handsome looks to political prudence and wariness in choices – are even reflected by his political program, which is advertised by the comparison to Liz Truss “reckless and misguided visions” of the economy. The United Kingdom so far is in a state of crisis, now it is just a question of when, not why, people will take to the streets. However this situation is a perfect match for some scapegoating manoeuvres. “Liz Truss’ plan to focus on tax cuts to tackle the cost of living – rather than targeted support for low income households – could see people end up on the streets, according to one of her rival’s backers” – we can read in Sky News. Tory MP Kevin Hollinrake said that the foreign secretary needed to stop offering “the magic money tree”. Of course, for Hollinrake, the way to deal with the cost of living crisis and soaring inflation is the way proposed by Rishi Sunak.

But his brutian ways of dealing with Boris Johnson has made him also some enemies among BoJo’s sympathazires. Conservative politicians who had supported Johnson criticised Sunak as “leading the charge in bringing down the prime minister” with key Johnson ally Jacob Rees-Mogg calling him a “high tax chancellor”.

In the end, his popularity has fallen down to the level of around 30% in spring months, largely because of his faithless treatment of BoJo, and isn’t so strong as at the beginning. Nevertheless, his image as a hard and reasonable administrator gives him a strong mandate in the contest of becoming the new Prime Minister. Among his supporters are deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, new Health Secretary Steve Barclay and former leadership rival Jeremy Hunt. 

Rishi’s program 

As a “reasonable steward” Rishi intends mainly to tackle inflation, no matter how. He presents it as the main threat to the British economy and stability. In the atmosphere of the soaring price of gas and food, which will send inflation close to 15% in 2023, for the first time since the early 80s, while the retail price index could hit 17.7%, this narration is becoming more and more popular. Sunak has made it clear that he will stop inflation from reaching 15% if he becomes prime minister – but it is always a question of how one measures it, some say it’s higher than 18% today. 

Sunak said that Truss’s plan: “would stoke inflation and drive up interest rates, adding to people’s mortgage payments. And it would mean every pound people get back in their pockets is nothing more than a down payment on rising prices. I won’t do that. I will make gripping inflation my number one economic priority. And I will deliver a sustainable, long-term tax plan that means people can bank the money it saves them”.

He is going to achieve that with some conservative engineering around interest rates and monetary policies. 

What’s more, when it comes to tax and spending policies he is going to reduce taxes, just like Truss – but after fighting with inflation. He pledges to cut the basic rate of income tax by 4p in two steps, first by spring 2024 and then by the end of the next Parliament. In April 2024 he also wants to increase corporation tax from 19% to 25%, which is interesting for a Tory. 

He wants to maintain defence spending and says we should view the current minimum level of spending 2% of GDP “as a floor, not a ceiling”, which is reasonable… from the point of view of Britain being the biggest aircraft carrier of NATO and the United States. 

When it comes to cost of living crisis he promises to  to scrap 5% VAT rate on household energy for one year if the price cap on bills rises above £3,000 for the typical household. He also promotes some good old neoliberalism with his , already announced when he was a chancellor, “Energy Profits Levy” – a windfall tax for energy firms – to pay for support for pensioners, low-income households and people who get disability benefits. What’s more households were also given a £400 grant for energy bills in addition to the £150 council tax rebate previously announced. But after all the cost of living crisis is just another manifestation of inflation, according to Sunak – no, it’s not a symptom of total privatisation of everything you can imagine! So for the first thing to do, the government has to fight inflation. 

Addressing post-Brexit issues he wants to “fix” the Northern Ireland Protocol – part of the UK’s post-Brexit deal with the EU – having criticised the way it operates as posing enormous challenges to “the stability of the situation in the nation”. Sunak will also scrap regulations on financial services that he says have been inherited from the EU to bolster growth in the sector similar to that seen in the 80s.

Sunak is going to respect the goal of reaching net zero by 2050 and also he wants to introduce a legal target to make the UK energy self sufficient by 2045, while maintaining the economical growth. 

In other spheres, no matter what ideas are expressed in the ned, the main thing behind them is to increase the competitiveness of the British economy by reducing some taxes, giving grants for new technologies, specialising schools so that people after them have skills useful on the labour market. In short, we find more, and more, and even more marketisation of public institutions.

Liz “Iron” Truss 

The second woman to lead the Foreign Office, Liz Truss was born in July 1975 in Oxford. She is a graduate of Oxford University, where she completed what is known as PPE, a degree combining political science, philosophy and economics. During her studies, she was active in the Liberal Democrats youth group, where she advocated abolishing the monarchy,- now a fun fact, used by her opponents. 

In 1996, she both graduated and joined the Conservative Party. She ran for the House of Commons for the first time as a 26-year-old, but without success. She also failed to win a seat four years later, in 2005. In the meantime, she developed in business as an economist specialising in management accounting. From 1996 to 2000, Truss worked for Shell, then she was employed by Cable & Wireless and rose to economic director before leaving in 2005, during this time she was also deputy director of the think tank Reform. 

In the end Truss was elected for South West Norfolk at the 2010 general election. As a backbencher, she called for reform in several policy areas including childcare, mathematics education and the economy. 

From 2006 to 2010 she was a councillor for the Royal Borough of Greenwich, one of the boroughs of Greater London. In 2010 she finally managed to enter the House of Commons. She gained her parliamentary seat from the South West Norfolk constituency.

Under David Cameron as Conservative leader, Truss was added to the so+called party’s “A List“, thus her career was prioritised by the party.

She entered government in 2012 as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Education. Two years later, the then Prime Minister David Cameron promoted her to Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Since then she has acted as a minister in the cabinets of each successive prime minister. She was Minister for Justice and Lord Chancellor from July 2016 to June 2017, and Chief Minister of the Treasury in Theresa May’s Cabinet from 2017 to 2019.

In Boris Johnson’s government, she initially served as Secretary of State for International Trade. In September last year, she was appointed as Foreign Secretary, a role in which she succeeded Dominic Raab. Truss is only the second woman to head British diplomacy after Labour’s Margaret Beckett, who held the post between 2006 and 2007 under Tony Blair. 

As head of diplomacy, Truss last year called on Russia to intervene to resolve the crisis caused by Alyaksandr Lukashenko on Belarus’ border with Poland and Lithuania. The British government then sent support to the Polish government, helping to build an anti-refugee barrage and revealing itself as an active actor in this area of Europe. 

Last November, she and her Israeli counterpart Jair Lapid signed a new 10-year agreement to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. A month later, weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, she met with the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Sergei Lavrov, whom she unsuccessfully tried to convince that Moscow should not send troops to Ukraine.

Her success as foreign minister is mainly seen as her successful diplomatic action for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a citizen of both Iran and the UK, who was sentenced to five years in prison in Iran for allegedly working to overthrow the government. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was finally released on 16 March 2022 immediately after Britain repaid the outstanding debt of £393.8 million to Iran. Since then she’s been trying to capitalise it to the utmost, using it as her success story to be told. 

Truss was also praised by many for her firm stance against the war in Ukraine and the tough sanctions the Great Ukrainian has imposed on Russia. Under her rule the United Kingdom became the training ground for Ukrainian troops, sent arms to help the fight, and also took an active role in the region itself, the prologue of which was the conflict on the Polish-Belarusian border. 

A wanna-be Margaret Thatcher 

46-year-old Liz Truss is sometimes referred to as the ‘new Iron Lady’, due to her deluded resemblance to Margaret Thatcher during the first pre-election debate – from her outfit to her rhetoric. She just used this card really well. Truss admits she is inspired by Thatcher – and it’s not just her style of dress, but her views on the economy and trade.

Her view is that Britain needs the biggest economic reform in 30 years – Truss has promised such reform if she becomes prime minister, just like Margaret Thatcher had done. She has also proposed raising tax on large corporations from 19 to 25 per cent, the same as Sunak. But she also says that she will pay for the cuts by spreading the UK’s “Covid debt” over a longer period. She says she won’t cut public spending unless there is a way to do so that won’t lead to future problems. She proposes an emergency budget to set out measures that would get the economy growing in order to fund public services and the NHS. 

Her main economic regrowth plan is to create more and more special economic zones, so new “low-tax and low-regulation zones” across the country to create hubs for innovation and enterprise. The second pillar of this approach is to tackle the crisis by putting money back into people’s pockets, such as by immediately reversing the National Insurance rise in order to favorize consumption, along with that she also wants suspension of what is known as the “green levy” – the part of energy bill that pays for social and green projects, and subsides them. 

If it comes to climate change her programme is contradictory. On one hand, she wants to review the ban on fracking, on the other she is going to cut the budgets dedicated to green energy programmes, while she declares that her priority is to protect wildlife and biodiversity better, for that she will launch a new UK survey of wildlife to understand which species are endangered. She also says that the UK needs to build more nuclear power stations and small modular nuclear reactors, however while she was environment secretary, she cut subsidies for solar farms calling them “a blight on the landscape”.

When it comes to foreign policies Liz Truss is going to continue the previous strategy of the United Kingdom. She is willing to expand the UK’s military by bringing the aim of spending 2.5% of GDP on defence forward to 2026 and introduce a new target of 3% by 2030. Here she represents the hawkish inclination of British post-imperialist policy, while Sunak represents more isolationist tendencies, being much more cautious about inner issues of the country. Therefore it is not really surprising that she is praised among the Central European countries, especially in Poland. 

If she refers to Brexit, even though she voted “remain”, she underlines that now she is brexiter and she is going to achieve as much as possible for Great Britain from this situation. She promised to scrap or replace by the end of 2023 EU laws deemed according to her to hold back the economy and also she wants to, like Sunak, relax the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, a move which could override parts of the post-Brexit deal between the UK and the EU.

Sunak laughs at her plans, saying that she is going to edbet Britain more and more, contradictory to his plan to first tackle the inflation. He is describing her programme as ‘fairytale economics’ and even called her rival for the prime minister’s post as a socialist. Truss, however, defends herself saying that his policies would lead the country into recession.

Some after the debates accused Truss not only of naivety on economic issues, but also of being ‘colourless’ and ‘robotic’ in her speech. She herself admitted that she “may not be the most brilliant candidate” for the office of British Prime Minister at this stage, but she claims to have other qualities, “My colleagues and my party colleagues will probably agree that if I’m already promising something, I’m keeping my commitments,” she stressed.

Liz Truss can be seen as the ‘continuation candidate‘ of Boris Johnson’s policies. Experts point out that, unlike many other members of the government, she has not resigned in recent times. Beth Rigby of Sky News points out that the image of someone who guarantees the continuation of the Johnson government’s policies could hurt Truss, with the backing of former Speaker of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg (the current Minister for Brexit Opportunity and Government Effectiveness) and Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Minister Nadine Dorries proving to be a ‘kiss of death’. Truss explained that she did not do so because “she is a loyal person”. At the same time, she assured that she would not take Johnson into the government she formed.

On the other hand, however, many in the Conservative Party support her low-tax, thatcherite economic plan. Suella Braverman, who had already dropped out of the party leadership race on the 14th of July, assessed in turn that Truss would be a good guarantor of Brexit commitments and benefits.

Overcome the crisis

Despite programmes and disputes among Sunak and Truss, Tory party has the biggest crises to deal with since the 1980s. No matter what they do or say, the crisis will be there.

Some of Tory politicians advocate antistrike solutions, but with such a big support for strikers, and new strikes and disputes unfolding in front of our eyes, those laws are not going to stop the people from taking to the streets.

Mick Lynch has called Liz Truss a “right-wing fundamentalist”, saying that she would be one of the “most extreme” PM in the history of Britain if she wins the Tory leadership contest. He said that she is launching, with her fellow supporters, a “direct attack” on “one of the main pillars of our democracy” over her threats to make industrial action illegal.

“I think she’s a right-wing fundamentalist,” Lynch said.

Others are pointing out that the potential cabinets of Sunak or Truss are going to be very, very far-right, in a social and economic sense, and would be full of no-talents and second or third-rank politicians. People who, in addition, would like to pave their future career by outdoing each other in laissez-faire ideas. 

The situation is yet to unfold, new strikes are starting one after another, most recently in Edinburgh where municipal services also said “Enough is enough”. Corbyn warns Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss to not bring in laws against unions, saying that it will damage the country beyond the point of repair.

However, these will be the Conservative party members who are to choose the next Prime Minister, and the thatcherite rhetorics is mainly aimed at them. What do the candidates want and will do for real – this we will see only when one of them takes the office. 

Cover photo: the iconic Downing Street doors.

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