Liz Truss’s premiership feels like a blur. But trust me, it happened. The mini-Budget happened. The chaotic conference in Birmingham happened. The near collapse of the pensions market happened.
In the end, someone had to take responsibility, and the blame game has already begun. In his first interview since leaving government, Kwasi Kwarteng has told Tom Newton Dunn on TalkTV’s First Edition that he urged Liz Truss to “slow down” their economic reforms. “She said, ‘Well, I’ve only got two years,’ and I said, ‘You will have two months if you carry on like this.’ And I’m afraid that’s what happened – and that was something that I said to her in October after the mini-Budget.”
There are a few problems with this. First, Kwarteng was responsible for that disastrous fiscal statement of 23 September, and if he thought its measures would crash the economy he should have flagged his concerns before the announcement. Second, the Sunday following the mini-Budget, Kwarteng said there were “more [reforms] to come”. Why promise more when privately you were arguing for less? Third, the problem wasn’t simply the speed of the announcements: it was the also trashing of the Office for Budget Responsibility; the sacking of Tom Scholar, the Treasury’s top official; and the refusal to explain how the proposed tax cuts would be funded – for all of which Kwarteng must bear responsibility.
In truth, the blame game began while Kwarteng and Truss were still in Downing Street, as the reputational damage – both to themselves and the ideas they extol – became apparent. At the Conservative Party conference in early October, Truss said it was Kwarteng who decided to cut the top rate of tax, while allies of the then-chancellor were briefing the opposite. That speaks to the dysfunction of the Truss government and the absence of a clear plan for the country.
Indeed, Kwarteng’s latest intervention is an attempt to salvage his reputation on the back of the breakdown of his relationship with Truss. He wants to pin blame for the 50 days of chaos on his (former?) close friend. It probably doesn’t help that he found out he was losing his job from the Twitter feed of the Times political editor. And he doesn’t hold back. “I think she called me,” he says when asked when he and Truss last spoke. “I missed a call.” So much for a rare period of harmony between No 10 and No 11.
[See also: Why we need an Office for Spending Evaluation]
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