Not waving but drowning. Days like these are coming round with increasing frequency. Days when the sketch is little more than a transcription service. Days when there is no way to improve on the sheer madness of the Tory party. Its capacity for self-harm has become compulsive. An addiction almost. The only way most Conservatives can reassure themselves they are in government is when they are surrounded by chaos. Their lives – and ours – are unmanageable. Interest rates rising, the pound tanking, public infighting. Yup, that’s the way Tories know they are still relevant. Even if they are on life support.
We all knew Liz Truss was going to be hopeless. That was a given. We just didn’t know she was going to be so hopeless quite so quickly. Or that she would be given so much enthusiastic support from the half-witted collective that make up her cabinet. Step forward Kamikwasi Kwarteng and the skin-crawlingly needy Chris Philp. Everyone’s favourite punchbag. We imagined Radon Liz might spread out the fun. A managed decline of her party. Instead she has gone for broke, daring the Tories to get rid of her little more than a month after electing her. She is the queen of the clusterfuck. The Trussterfuck.
Some time between Liz Truss telling a near catatonic late-night party of Tory donors – the applause was one hand clapping – that the 45p tax rate was being abolished and the next morning, the prime minister did a U-turn. At some point between Kamikwasi briefing extracts of his conference speech about “staying the course” on Sunday night and 6am on Monday morning, the chancellor did a reverse ferret. It was shabby, desperate stuff. The stuff of a government that was entirely clueless. Politically and economically completely illiterate.
Just after 7.30am, Kamikwasi appeared on BBC Breakfast. It felt more like a hostage video. The normally arrogant, over-confident facade had given way to fear. You could sense a man who was now out of his depth and was playing for time. Trying to wind down the clock with bluff. Everything was fine. Never better. Reinstating the 45p tax rate was no big deal. It was just a distraction, he said time and again. It wouldn’t affect the overall plan. Largely because there wasn’t one.
Kamikwasi was slightly more verbal when he appeared half an hour later on the Today programme. But not much. He knew he had been so busted. Not so much a chancellor, as just a chancer. Someone with a smattering of undergraduate bluster who had somehow been let loose on the UK economy. And he had now been seen. He had no clothes.
It was only a matter of time before he was gone. What credibility he had ever had, totally shredded. He may have reversed a tax giveaway to the rich, but there were still billions of pounds of other unfunded tax cuts. And just as important, he had shown his hand. He might have been forced into a humiliating climbdown, but now everyone knew he was completely relaxed about extra tax breaks for the most well off. The optics were shite either way. Though Kamikwasi was too dim to appreciate it.
Nick Robinson was brutal. Who was responsible for the U-turn? Truss, Kwarteng or the useful idiot, Philp. You could almost hear Philp’s squeals of pleasure at having a purpose in life as a fall guy. A place in history as a government patsy. Why had Kamikwasi rubbished the Bank of England, sacked the permanent secretary to the Treasury and sidelined the Office for Budget Responsibility? Because they would all have thought he was batshit crazy. And what about spending cuts?
He couldn’t bear to hear the truth. And now he’d finally had to bend just 10 days after delivering the mini-budget when reality became unavoidable. Was he going to apologise? He wasn’t. Though he would mutter something about humility and contrition. Those words were squeezed out through gritted teeth. His budget was all about growth, he insisted. Except as ever, Kamikwasi had missed the point. His budget was the exact opposite. Anti-growth. It could have been designed to make people worse off.
It was just Kwarteng’s bad luck that he was due on the conference stage to give his keynote speech in the afternoon. He spent the intervening hours holed up with the reclusive Librium Liz – they cancelled a planned outing to Selly Oak – watching ITV news clips of her insisting that the 45p tax rate would not be abolished. Both were equally confused. Unsure if these were clips that had been pre-recorded or whether there had been yet another U-turn. It’s getting hard to keep up.
After a brief video of the chancellor meeting young people whose in-work benefits he was about to cut, a visibly sweaty Kamikwasi appeared from the wings. He looked terrible. Anxious, nervous and keen to be anywhere but Birmingham. It soon became clear why. He had nothing to say beyond a few half-arsed platitudes that even he didn’t seem to believe. He was merely going through the motions with a speech that was intellectually empty. It could have been a career suicide note.
He began with a jokey reference to the U-turn. Or “turbulence” as he put it. Not the most sensitive way of acknowledging that his wilful imposition of untested libertarian ideology had cost homeowners thousands in extra mortgage interest payments. Kwarteng then went on to say the government was “getting Britain moving”. Some hope. The only people moving anywhere in the next few years will be those in the process of having their homes repossessed. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
The speech lasted barely 20 minutes but felt longer. It was almost painful – excruciating even – to watch Kamikwasi die on his feet. He missed his punch lines, such as they were, and openly contradicted himself. There would be a plan, he promised. Just as soon as he had thought of one. But fingers crossed for late November.
At one point, he said it was all Labour’s fault that the UK had low growth. Then in the next sentence he blamed it all on the Tories. Next he claimed the Tories were the party of fiscal responsibility. Wait till he finds out who caused the Bank of England to spaff £65bn protecting pensions. It was embarrassing. The applause – if you can call it that – was sparse and sporadic. Not even sympathetic.
Kwarteng staggered off the stage. Thrilled just to have survived the ordeal. Then reality bit. His wasn’t even a heroic failure. It was bog standard hubris. The inevitable end point for someone whose ambition exceeded his talent. Radon Liz offered him a hug and her undying support. That was just too much. Now he knew he was finished.