No words were needed. Their faces said it all. Penny Mordaunt looked like someone who had just been told her house was about to be repossessed. You reap what you sow. James Cleverly kept his eyes closed for the most part. Wishing he was anywhere but here and hoping he would wake up somewhere else when he opened them. Thérèse Coffey just remained in her usual stupor. She has yet to work out just what she has done to become deputy prime minister. Her and me both.
That was just the cabinet. If anything, the Tory backbenchers – those who had made the effort to turn up – were in an even more pitiful state. Most appeared to be suffering from acute post-traumatic stress disorder. Clutching their heads. Staring vacantly ahead. Talking to themselves.
Unlike those on the frontbench, almost none of them had actually wanted Liz Truss in the first place. They had been given no baubles, no offices of state to feed their ambition. They had always known Librium Liz would be a Trussterfuck.
Yet even in their darkest moments, few had realised just how bad Truss would be. Or how quickly. Most had thought she would take her time to reach maximum uselessness. Most new leaders get a short honeymoon period. Time when even the sceptics reserve their judgement. Not Radon Liz. She had driven her party off a cliff in a matter of weeks.
So the Tory cheers sounded barely half-hearted – more a death rattle – as Truss entered the chamber for her second outing at prime minister’s questions. Chronicle of a death foretold. She was to give her Tory MPs precious little to be happy about. Librium Liz could almost have been a Labour plant. The Tory leader that the opposition would have chosen if it had been allowed a vote.
Even when Boris Johnson was blustering, there was a thread of an argument. Even if it wasn’t always rooted in reality. Truss can’t even manage that. Her answers may be more direct, but there is an air of hopelessness about her from which she can’t escape.
Truss is the loser’s loser. At one point, she said: “I am genuinely unclear.” Which was probably the truest thing she’s said in months. A cry of pain. A brief realisation of her own hollowness. The Labour benches merely laughed. It’s not often you get a Tory leader who feeds them all their best lines.
And it probably won’t last, as most Tory MPs are desperate to get Librium Liz out of Number 10 as soon as possible. So they will enjoy it while it lasts. And what did Truss do? She repeated herself. “I am genuinely unclear,” she sobbed. This time some of her own backbenchers couldn’t help joining in the laughter. Labour’s highlights reel of Truss soundbites for the next election is going to be a director’s cut.
There’s only one game in town at the moment. So, after Truss had performed her first U-turn of the day on no-fault evictions in answer to Labour’s Graham Stringer, Keir Starmer predictably went in hard on the economy. Did she agree with the half-witted Jacob Rees-Mogg that the turmoil in the markets had nothing to do with the budget? Er… yeah, but not but yeah, but no, but yeah, but we’ve taken decisive action. Decisive action to spook the markets and tank the pound.
Starmer tried to talk Librium Liz down. Labour had been the ones who had voted against the rise in national insurance earlier in the year. It wasn’t the energy bailout package that had sent the pound tumbling and interest rates rising. And to not implement a planned rise in corporation tax was still a tax cut. Even if you would rather pretend it wasn’t.
It was all basic stuff. Economics 101. But still way beyond Liz. Oxford must be so proud of her achievements. No wonder the university has dropped down the world rankings. Instead she merely doubled down on everything. Her’s was a budget for growth – she did at least refrain from calling Labour “the anti-growth coalition”, presumably someone has told her it makes her sound ridiculous – and she wouldn’t be making any spending cuts.
She was going to carry on doing all the things that had already cost the government £65bn in bailouts. God stand up for Trussonomics! Or Trussian roulette. Amazingly, this level of idiocy didn’t send the pound tumbling further.
Maybe it’s all been a cunning plan to confuse and wrongfoot the markets. Now they’ve no idea what she’s going to do. She’s just as likely to U-turn on her budget as she is to see it through. Who knows? Within a week, Kamikwasi could be an ex-chancellor – that’s what you get for doing what Truss wants – the mini budget could be ripped up and tax rises and spending cuts could be imposed. You just never quite know …
As if to confirm this, Radon Liz used PMQs to perform yet another U-turn. This time on a government advertising campaign on energy efficiency. Whoever had said she was against the idea was a liar. Though she did categorically rule out another general election. Which probably means there will be one before Christmas.
Truss left the chamber to cries of “more” from Labour and widespread indifference from her own side. That was the closest to enthusiasm the Tory benches could manage. She left behind the creepy Chris Philp – the Nose in Search of a Bum – to answer an urgent question on why the economy was even worse on Wednesday than it had been on Tuesday. The Labour benches were full. The government’s were nearly empty. Almost as if the Tories can’t bear to revisit the scene of the crime.
Philp was up against Rachel Reeves. It was no contest. Philp is a lightweight. An inveterate people-pleaser of those in power. Someone only in cabinet because the government is morally bankrupt and there is no one else left. His idea of making an argument is merely to shout bollocks very loudly.
“THE CHANCELLOR IS AWAY AT A ROUTINE MEETING OF THE IMF. I SAID ROUTINE,” he yelled. And no he didn’t know what was going on – this was very much above his pay grade – but the budget definitely wouldn’t be reversed unless it was. Nor would the next fiscal event be brought forward unless it was. Everything was worse somewhere else even if it wasn’t. And spending cuts would go up with inflation. Though it depended what inflationary index you were using.
Christ. Why does anyone bother with the Nose in Search of a Bum? That was the question even those Tories, such as the treasury committee chair Mel Stride, who had stayed behind to make a plea for sanity, were asking themselves. But Philp was rushing on his run. His elevation just one of the eternal – and certainly short-lived – mysteries of the Truss regime.