Whether a chameleon, a hawk on foreign policy or a gaffe-prone leader, Liz Truss will have a very short horizon to stamp her personality and make good the campaign promises of good times to come after Brexit
By Jan Arden
Liz Truss has been anti-Brexit and is now a pro-Brexiteer, advocated pro LGBT policies and is now against… The charge in some quarters of an opportunist chameleon bites… Pic – The Globe and Mail
This week has witnessed the end of the selection process of the Conservative Party to replace Boris Johnson, forced to resign and still facing the House Ethics Committee, accused of misleading the House in the wake of the unsavoury “partygate” scandals. It is worth bearing in mind that whereas the twists of those scandals dragged on for several months since 2021 inside and outside Parliament, there were other aggravating factors that ended up making Boris Johnson’s position as PM untenable.
Many Tory MPs, including senior ones, were facing dire electoral prospects because the cost of living had become such a number one issue facing the PM, that many Brits who believed flamboyant Boris would improve their financial security and prosperity were deserting the Tories in droves. Lack of timely interventions since 2021 on the piling miseries of millions of households facing escalating food and fuel prices and galloping inflation threatened retribution at the next polls when Labour and unions were busy pushing concrete assistance proposals that were ignored.
“Scrap VAT on energy and announce urgent relief for the crippling price rises we now face” thundered a lead editorial in the Tory-leaning Sun as far back as 7th January 2022, adding for good measure the nationwide anger that would damn Tories if MPs were to get a GBP 2,000 pay rise in April! The media and the press had turned scathing, opinion polls were dismal at best and Labour had the winds in its sails. Such a potent combination and the resignation of a number of key Ministers, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak, were ultimately more determinant than dubious Boris’ ethics and brought the Boris Johnson shambles to an inglorious end, leading the Tories into the mid-term PM replacement exercise we have witnessed.
That exercise dragged over 8 weeks as firstly MPs voted in several rounds until the best two remained and the final choice was done by some 145,000 due-paying Tory party voters in a country of some 61 million. The latter have reversed the clear choice of MPs for Chancellor Sunak and Liz Truss who had nudged second (32% of final MP votes), has emerged as winner of the party loyalists vote (some 81,000 to Sunak’s 60,000). This reversal is historic and places greater onus on the Truss PM-ship as she has to find Tory MP support to urgently address multiple important issues left pending for long weeks by the caretaker Johnson government.
Such a bruising internal contest, the limited partisan ballot of the Truss victory and the long power vacuum at a time when consumers, workers and businesses were demanding government action to mitigate the impact of soaring food and energy prices have only served to add urgency to incoming Liz Truss, who has ten years of ministerial experience but is not widely regarded for economic literacy or for political consistency.
Promising to increase defence spending and cut taxes, while refusing to say how she would address the cost-of-living crisis during the campaign exemplifies her economic contradictions and limitations. In political positioning, as a Lib-Dem in her Oxford University years, she supported the legalization of cannabis and the abolition of the royal family, a rather far cry from the Tory values she now represents. She has been anti-Brexit and is now a pro-Brexiteer, advocated pro LGBT policies and is now against… The charge in some quarters of an opportunist chameleon bites. Millions of struggling ordinary Britons will therefore have to wait to find out who is the real Liz Truss and discover the immediate measures she and her chosen Chancellor propose for immediate relief and the policies they intend to pursue as 2024 looms ahead.
At Foreign, Commonwealth and Development affairs Liz Truss has held a hawkish pro-Ukraine stance in tandem with Boris Johnson when the UK population is increasingly sceptical of such costly support which is more likely to drag out the conflict and prolong its repercussions on gas/energy prices and availability from Russia. Even there, she has had her share of gaffes and missteps. We recall her hot-footing it to New Delhi after stating that “India must stop fence-sitting” in the proposals for a West-led anti-Russia coalition (at the same time as India was welcoming Russian ambassador Sergei Lavrov). It came as China had joined Russia in condemning ‘illegal sanctions’ against Moscow. The arrogance, insensitivity and ignorance of deep India-Russia ties were appalling in post-colonial India-UK relations and the effort was expectedly slapped down by Indian MEA Jaishankar in polite diplospeak.
Claiming that the “jury is out” when asked if Emmanuel Macron was a friend or foe in August, raised a huff across the Channel at a time when both were allies in the anti-Russia crusade and certainly did not endear the UK PM to the French, so apt to forget that President Macron had earlier dubbed Boris Johnson a “clown” over the frustrating Channel crossings issue. Whether a chameleon, a hawk on foreign policy or a gaffe-prone leader, Liz Truss, with her weak personal base in the Tory party and the major issues on her waiting desk, will have a very short horizon to stamp her personality and make good the Tory and Boris Johnson campaign promises of good times to come after Brexit.
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Appeals to the Privy Council
Are there some lessons or implications for Mauritius? Under the above conditions and the international context, our foreign policy hands would be aware to expect very little on the Diego Garcia and Chagos fronts, if not further underhanded attempts to derail our stance.
On the political front, some may marvel at the UK’s major traditional parties having an established process for the selection of PM candidates or their replacement even in mid-term conditions we know, but this is not new in mature democracies with long entrenched party histories even in a country with no written Constitution to boot. We were handed a model Constitution adjusted for legitimate demands of security and tenure of key offices; if it has served us well in the past, recent years have highlighted the need for a thorough review to avoid the observable numerous dysfunctions, including the concentration of power by a small elite controlling all key institutions.
Many would believe that, irrespective of their past alliances and break-ups, only an experienced leader with the necessary breadth of vision can pilot the tasks of taking us to a new plane of a functional democracy. While a few voices chaff all too easily about “dinosaurs”, it is worth pointing out that inexperienced newbies are chock-a-block in the governing MSM and others have damaging cans to carry in their backpacks. It is also rather odd that those emerging from decades of loyalty to the MSM should now aspire to lead the charge against “lakaz mama” and discover their PM attributes.
The recent SC judgement in the appeal lodged by the DPP in the case of Navin Ramgoolam has “merely” ruled that case be retried in the Intermediate Court, a ruling that would be appealed to the Privy Council. Even if such an appeal fails, its consequence in due time would be a retrial while the appeal lodged by Suren Dayal at the Privy Council would, if successful, invalidate the 2020 elections of the PM and his two returned MPs, a rather more disquieting perspective for the MSM leader and his politburo.
The SC judgement for a retrial is a “contre-temps” certainly for the former PM, Navin Ramgoolam, which the MSM will try to exploit, but it is far from a condemnation which would pre-empt his leadership role in any wide Opposition rassemblement of parliamentary parties and extra-parliamentary forces to challenge a formidable, entrenched foe.
Leaders who miss the opportunity for fundamental changes on whatever grounds, personal egos, ambitions, or political calculations, will have their own conscience and history as judge.
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 9 September 2022
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