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Cowper's Cut 240: Liz Truss (a quitter, not a fighter) out as Sunak surges

Cowper's Cut 240: Liz Truss (a quitter, not a fighter) out as Sunak surges

Told you so.

At just after 1.30 on Thursday afternoon, an awkward, twisted wooden thing was put out the front door of 10 Downing Street. Comedy PM Liz Truss' favourite lectern had been moved into place there a few minutes beforehand.

A brief speech of nonsensical pseudo-justification was broadcast to an agape nation, and then it was over. The lettuce had won. Ms Truss resigned as Prime Minister, after a 44-day period of office shorter than her leadership campaign.

The day before, at Prime Minister's Questions, PM Truss channelled her previously-unseen inner Peter Mandelson, to assert that "I am a fighter, not a quitter".

To the considerable surprise of absolutely nobody, the reverse of this turned out to be true.

The Truss legacy

'One close aide said: “I have to say this is an absolute tragedy. Liz Truss should have been a great PM. The sadness the staff feel is akin to a loved one dying. ‘Haunted’ is all I can really say to explain how I feel”.' - reported in the Sunday Times

Literally tens of words could be written about Liz Truss' legacy as Prime Minister. It is the cautionary tale to end all cautionary tales.

Just read the transcript of Ms Truss' pool interview with BBC News: it is a masterpiece of personal and political stupidity.

It would be unfair, to borrow the classic political put-down of someone who 'rose without a trace', and say that Ms Truss 'governed without a trace'. Unfair because she has blown a £40 billion-shaped hole in the UK Government's finances.

The legacy of Trussonomics is this large and ugly hole, whose filling will have to be funded by stealthy tax rises (fiscal drag of longer maintaining tax thresholds for the win) and by spending cuts to a public realm that is already in deep trouble in most places.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to the rescue

Mr Hunt's statement on Monday restored some calm to the bond and currency markets. He is now left holding the baby, with the surely-to-be-delayed 31 October revisionist Budget facing nothing but hard choices.

Few people know better than ex-select committee chair Mr Hunt how neglected health has been by the Johnson administration, as he discussed in August in this Twitter thread:

Equally, few know as well as Mr Hunt how practically and politically difficult departmental spending cuts will be. Tom Pope's blog for the Institute For Government is very clear on this subject.

The Times speculates that Mr Hunt will delay the introduction of the inheritance-preserving social care reform (to cap personal lifetime spending at £85,000 before state funding kicks in).

Who's next?

Nature (unlike the membership of the Conservative And Unionist Party) abhors a vacuum: the second Conservative And Unionist Party leadership contest of 2022 was under way. The 1922 Committee set a support threshold of 100 MP nominations to enter the final group to be set before this most discriminating and sophisticated of memberships.

Undaunted by his round rejection by the party membership last time in favour of Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak promptly let it be known that he would stand. So did Penny Mordaunt, a modestly competent media performer whose other principal attributes to be Prime Minister are her initials.

Mr Hunt has (as he did in the summer leadership race) backed the near-certain winner, former Chancellor and not-tall person Rishi Sunak. The current (and likely un-sackable) Chancellor explains his reasoning here in the Boris Johnson Fanzine: a publication whose grief over The Big Dog's fate will be delicious.

Boris Johnson's short-lived comeback

But would Cincinnatus return from his plough?

Or in the last-but-one PM and Conservative leader Boris Johnson's case, would he return from his Caribbean holiday, which he took while Parliament was still sitting? To be fair, there are only the 22 weeks of the year when the House isn't sitting.

He would, of course. The narcissist's narcissist could not be left out of this national psychodrama.

Equally, he couldn't get 100 MP nominations (as indeed Ms Mordaunt appears not to have done), and so had to pull out: Conservative leadership contests clearly being the only time that Mr Johnson does pull out.

In his withdrawal statement, The People's Boris lied that he had secured the required 102 nominations, and that "there is a very good chance that I would be successful in the election with Conservative Party members - and that I could indeed be back in Downing Street on Friday.

"But in the course of the last days I have sadly come to the conclusion that this would simply not be the right thing to do. You can't govern effectively unless you have a united party in parliament. And though I have reached out to both Rishi (Sunak) and Penny (Mordaunt) - because I hoped that we could come together in the national interest - we have sadly not been able to work out a way of doing this".

Mr Johnson is a fool of many kinds, but he is not wrong about the disunity of the Conservative And Unionist Party in Parliament. His quitting the race in this manner is a clear long-game tactic: he knows that the Rishi Sunak will not be able to bring the Johnsonites onside; he sees the political pain coming that Trussonomics has guaranteed;  and he sees a subsequent leadership contest or coronation as a more viable bet for him.

Coronation Street

We shall have to see how Mr Sunak performs as newly-crowned PM, as to whether 2022 will be graced by a third Conservative And Unionist Party leadership contest. The bit in his acceptance speech where he has to say something nice about Liz Truss should be particularly funny.

You wouldn't bet against it: for MPs in a governing party with a substantial majority, disloyalty is hard the first time: thereafter, it's habit-forming.

Scandal as usual

The independent report on the maternity and neonatal services of East Kent yet again showed that UK midwifery is in a very bad state.

Health But Social Care Secretary Dr Therese 'Tiz' Coffey broke with about thirty years of convention by not going to Parliament to make a statement in response to a major report on an NHS safety scandal.

Dr Tiz was in the news last week for manhandling a Tory MP into the Government lobby at the confidence/not-really vote on Thursday - although she was probably just trying to administer some leftover antibiotics. She's a doctor, you know.

Still, Dr Tiz being hands-on is a first. We can only assume that Mr Sunak will drop her from the post like a shitty stick in a reshuffle, tragically denying us the opportunity to get her long-term vision for the NHS ('The Five-Minute Forward View'?).

Dr Tiz has been comfortably the most useless and wrong Secretary Of State For Health ever. Good riddance.

Starmer drama

Asked whether Labour would commit to raising NHS budgets in line with inflation, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, “we will set out what we need to do in the NHS. Of course, it needs more money, but it needs more than that, it needs reform. It needs to move to a more preventative model”.

This statement of the obvious seems to have taken some politics-watchers by surprise. Labour really do seem serious about fiscal responsibility. Good.

Health select committee report on general practice

Jim Mackey comments

Health Service Journal has this interview with former NHS Improvement boss Jim Mackey, in which he asserts that provider trusts are missing their backlog activity recovery targets without good reasons.

Mackey calls the trusts in question's activity levels "inexplicably low", and warns them of "consequences".

This is really intriguing. I am assuming that having done a national job (albeit very unhappily), Jim would not assert deliberate underperformance by trusts in this way unless he has objective data to back it up.

So let’s see the data.

Inflation passes 10% in September

The increase of consumer price inflation to pass 10% in September is consequential because, as HSJ's Alison Moore points out, it determines NHS pensions uplifts from April 2023. This creates what Alison rightly describes as "perverse incentives for those on final salary pensions to retire early".

It would be nice to report that the Government has a clear grip of this and other pensions issues, but it wouldn't be true.

The Alan comeback

The People's Partridge is sending out diary notes to his fellow MPs, asking them to keep 5 December clear for the launch of his 'war diaries' of the pandemic.

See you there, Alan fans!

Parsa moanious

Everybody’s favourite Babylon founder and ex-Circle value destroyer, Aloytius Parsadoust, somehow managed to get this so-bad-it's brilliant puff piece in Sifted.

In a piece of heroically incurious PR masqerading as  journalism, you can learn about Ali's view on goji berries, why SPAC-ing Babylon was a mistake, and 'how to get the Ali Parsa look'.

No, really.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies' new report 'Does funding follow need? An analysis of the geographic distribution of public spending in England' is a key read.

The BMA has published its investigation into niche anti-vax Aseem Malhotra being given an award at the last ARM.

Private medical insurance got some atypically reality-based coverage in the Sunday Times, which reported on BUPA doubling the premium of a senior lawyer being treated for cancer.