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17 October

All hail the new leader, Jeremy Hunt

For all the talk of unity, the direction of post-Truss travel is obvious.

By John Oxley

Chaos is over; normal service is resumed. It’s the sort of televised message that marks the transition of power in states less stable and democratic than ours. The face of the new regime takes to the airwaves and explains in a stern but calm voice that all is well, there is no need for panic, order has been restored. The backdrop to Jeremy Hunt’s first broadcast as Chancellor was not as extreme as a coup, but its message was similar.

In five minutes, straight to camera, he sought to smooth over the carnage of the mini-Budget and the sacking of his predecessor after just 38 days in the role. He was there to reassure the markets, and the British people, that economic orthodoxy was being restored. In doing so, he rolled back almost all the Prime Minister’s flagship reforms and revealed where power now really sits.

Virtually every tax cut promised by Kwasi Kwarteng was reversed in the push for “sustainable public finances”. The Chancellor also reduced the scale and scope of the energy package, proposing to time-limit and target support from next April. The dash for growth was gone in an instant; instead the focus was on managing volatility and reducing debt.

It was a steady and assured performance. It contrasted greatly with the Prime Minister’s shell-shocked appearance in Downing Street on Friday (14 October), but as well as the change of policy, it heralded a change in the locus of power. Hunt’s very appearance made it clear that since his appointment to the Treasury on the same day, he has begun to call the shots. While he stressed that the Prime Minister had agreed these policies, at no point did it seem like she had much of a choice. Buffeted by the markets, the polls and her own MPs, bereft of her first-choice chancellor, she couldn’t escape the demands of the second choice.

Equally unspoken were the implications for Liz Truss’s future as Prime Minister. Having failed in her self-heralded growth agenda, her premiership now lacks its central tenet. Her ideas have been jettisoned, and she’s not even the one allowed to announce it. That Hunt was front and centre for today’s announcement shows how the Prime Minister is not just sidelined in policy decisions, but in communications too.

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Her absence from the stage was a hint of what comes next. It was as if Hunt was about to tell the nation that Truss had gone to live on a farm, and while she would be very happy there, no, we wouldn’t be able to visit. He didn’t have to say what is really happening to her premiership; and for all the talk of unity, the direction of travel was obvious.

This morning’s press conference was the soft launch of a post-Truss vision, a trialling of the gentle slide into the new regime. It remains unclear just how and when her time in office will end, but it is unmistakably hollowed out. She may limp on as a figurehead or be swiftly defenestrated. For now, we must just listen to the Chancellor and all remain calm. Chaos is over, normal service is resumed.

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[See also: Councils will crumble under Jeremy Hunt’s spending cuts]

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