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Ideas & Observations

Moving on Up? More like edging sideways and backwards…

Words: Steven Hugill, editor of North East Times

For a Prime Minister whose tenure feels like a dodgy connection ready to blow at any minute, there was something wonderfully ironic about Liz Truss strolling the floor of British Gas last month.

Just days into a premiership that has spluttered, rather than sparked and ignited into life, we’re faced with a leader still trying to convince herself she has the blueprint to transform the country’s fortunes, while many around are sniffing the air and not liking the smell.

The Conservative Party conference did little to quell the whiff of desperation either, Truss’ decision to enter the stage for her flagship speech to M People’s ‘Moving on Up’ – a spectacularly bad choice of song, given it details the ending of a particularly bad relationship – sounding better on a communication team’s whiteboard than it did over the speakers.

It feels incredible to write that we’re already at a crossroads with this Government, given the omnishambles of Boris Johnson’s time in office.

Yet, here we are.

She’s only just flipped over the first full month on her Prime Ministerial calendar, and already Truss has watched the pound tank under the weight of her short-lived plan to cut tax for higher earners, the Bank of England warn over substantial interest rate rises and homebuyers and owners grimace through their fingers at the impact on the mortgage market.

She’s also used up – alongside Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng – a hell of a lot of political capital in making the 45p tax U-turn, which for a party going through yet another iteration, leaves little in the pot.

Normally, of course, the party conference season would provide a time to reset the dials, reformulate the messaging and reinvigorate the electorate.

But the Tories’ gathering did the opposite.

It was like watching a party where the banners had slipped from the walls before the star attraction arrived, where many of the guests had headed for the exit as early as possible, leaving behind the diehards who wanted one more spin on the dance floor as the cleaning staff converged to tidy away the mess.

And it’s a very real mess.

According to a YouGov poll, released in early October, Truss is already less popular than both Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn.

The same figures show Sir Kier Starmer more than 60 points better off.

In response, a party driving for growth, against an apparent ‘anti-growth coalition’, is the message now being repeated verbatim (don’t worry, if you miss it in one interview, you’ll hear it in the next…)

But as you hear those platitudes shovelled out in huge dollops, and messaging that is more concerned about stopping Labour from gaining power, rather than finding solutions to the country’s aching needs, you see a party skidding from one side of the road to the other, with no real sense of anyone having a hand on the wheel to find a gear for that growth.

It puts me in mind of the scene in Austin Powers, where the main character tries to turn a vehicle in the tightest of spaces, making tiny movements back and forth.

There’s been a lot of activity from the Government in the last month, but very little progress.

Instead, we’ve had a comedy of errors.

And just like the spoof spy movie, it hasn’t been very funny.