Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. Conservatives
31 August 2022

Can Liz Truss blame the looming economic crisis on Rishi Sunak?

Already, the former chancellor is being turned into a scapegoat.

By Rachel Wearmouth

With Liz Truss all but named prime minister, the Westminster hive mind has turned its attention to who will be in her first cabinet.

Who’s in and who’s out? Convention dictates that the victor in a party leadership contest offers their vanquished rival a senior job to try to unite the party. Rishi Sunak has already knocked back such a proposal, saying cabinet ministers “really need to agree with the big things” – with the obvious implication that the differences between him and Truss are just too fundamental to resolve.

It’s doubtful the Foreign Secretary will have lost any sleep over this – because she already has a job for Sunak. He will be the villain, and it’s a role he will be filling whether he accepts it or not.

The new prime minister will have a monster of an in-tray, with the cost-of-living crisis, widespread strikes, the continued challenge of making Brexit work and the NHS on the brink all requiring the government’s immediate attention. Truss’s proposed programme of tax cuts, more borrowing and tearing up the Bank of England’s mandate has been criticised by Sunak as “fantasy economics”. But no matter, for when these plans collide with reality, Sunak and his “Treasury orthodoxy” will be to blame. If the economy goes into recession, as is expected, it is easy to see how Truss’s outriders, who have already begun to claim that pandemic lockdowns were the source of all the UK’s current ills, will turn on Sunak and try to cast his furlough scheme as part of the problem.

It is not possible for Truss, having surrounded herself with his allies, to blame Boris Johnson. If humiliated, the outgoing Prime Minister would be a bigger threat to her on the backbenches than even her arch nemesis Michael Gove.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy
THANK YOU

[See also: Rishi Sunak’s next move]

Content from our partners
The cost-of-living crisis is hitting small businesses – Liz Truss must act
How industry is key for net zero
How to ensure net zero brings good growth and green jobs

And if the Conservatives’ hoped-for bounce in the polls in the wake of Johnson’s exit fails to materialise Sunak will be in the frame again. Nadine Dorries’s despicable tweet casting the former chancellor as Brutus the back-stabber for resigning from Johnson’s cabinet and helping to precipitate his fall made sure of that. That Johnson’s chaotic government was up to its eyes in sleaze, and that Sunak was among a tidal wave of frontbenchers who concluded they could no longer serve, will be ignored.

How Sunak responds will tell us what kind of politician he really is. The campaigns of both would-be leaders have been carefully choreographed, peppered with strikingly vicious attacks. And yet the contest could be a mere skirmish compared to what may be to come.

Will Sunak fight fire with fire? How many of his acolytes would stand by him if he does? He began the leadership contest supported by a majority of Tory MPs, but that many have jumped ship would suggest few have the stomach for more conflict within the party, especially given there is a general election on the horizon. Truss may also try to cut Sunak off from his closest allies by offering them frontbench roles. It would be the easiest option for her.

The margin of Truss’s victory with Tory members matters. If her share of the vote far exceeds 60 per cent, MPs will make a calculation about their associations and file in behind the new leader. If it’s closer to 55 per cent, maybe not so much.

The big question is does Sunak, who is just 42, think he has another shot? If not, a lucrative career in the private sector, far away from the cut and thrust of British politics, may beckon.

If he does fancy his chances his first task is to avoid being cast as Truss’s scapegoat. The story rarely ends well for the goat. 

[See also: Why Liz Truss will fail]

Topics in this article: , ,