23 June 2024

Labour’s Liz Truss complex


Privacy is a precious commodity these days. Whether it’s one of our 7 million CCTV cameras watching you buy groceries or some social media chancer filming you drunkenly wax lyrical on a bus, you’re never far from prying eyes. This fact of modern life has been thrown into sharp relief for Jeremy Hunt, who this week was secretly recorded at a meeting of students saying (whisper it) that Liz Truss might have had a couple of decent intentions.

According to the Chancellor, Truss’ economic ambitions were ‘a good thing to aim for’ and his party, in a less abrupt way, are ‘trying to basically achieve some of the same things’.

Predictably, Labour have leapt on this to demonstrate that the Tories have maintained their ‘addiction to Trussonomics’. Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Darren Jones had this to say about the affair:

Liz Truss’s disastrous mini-budget and unfunded tax cuts unleashed misery on millions by sending mortgage rates soaring. Now the Chancellor admits he is trying to implement these policies by stealth, without the British public realising.

There are a couple of things to unpack here. First is Jones’ promulgation of the dubious claim that Truss is somehow singularly responsible for our current economic malaise.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not saying that Truss’ administration ought to be remembered as a howling success. Her political miscalculations and fiscal imprudence set the free-market conservative cause back years. However, as has been pointed out on CapX and elsewhere, the claim interminably made by Labour that she ‘crashed’ the economy is highly contentious.

Second is Jones’ mischaracterisation of what Hunt actually said. If Labour’s spin doctors had bothered to listen to the entire recording, they would have heard Hunt say this: ‘I absolutely do believe that it’s very important for us as a country that we have the most competitive business taxes’. He goes on to qualify that ‘the problem (with Truss’ premiership) was that she didn’t explain in that mini budget how she was going to fund them (her tax cuts)… I’m trying to achieve some of the same things that she wanted to achieve, but I’m doing it more gradually’.

By any index of admiration, this was hardly a ringing endorsement. But this shouldn’t come as a great shock. It was Hunt after all who delivered Trussonomics its coup de grace. When he swooped in as Chancellor following Kwasi Kwarteng’s dismissal, he undid the most radical measures of the Truss agenda. The point Hunt made to those surveilling students is that Britain needs to move in a pro-growth direction, but in order to get buy-in for the tough measures this requires, they must be fully costed and accompanied by clear communication.

And this is an analysis that, try as they might to hide it, Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet seems to share. Growth has been front and centre of Starmer’s election campaign, and a number of his party’s pledges wouldn’t look entirely out of place in a Truss-adjacent manifesto. To name a few, he’s promised planning deregulation to get homes built, he’s ruled out increasing corporation tax and his Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting has plans to increase the private sector’s role in the NHS to reduce backlogs.

‘Huzzah’ you might say. ‘Thank God for Starmer’s changed Labour Party and its new-found focus on economic growth’. I wouldn’t start counting chickens yet.

Despite the fact that advocating growth while associating the Tories with Truss might be proving an effective electoral strategy, it doesn’t seem to be giving Starmer much cover from the more radical elements of his party. In response to his manifesto, left-wing MPs such as Zarah Sultana have already expressed consternation that he wasn’t ‘bolder’ in pushing for socialist policies.

While figures from the Socialist Campaign Group like Sultana currently have marginal influence and Starmer’s growth-centric approach can be cautiously applauded, these things can prove transient in politics. Lest we forget, it was Liz Truss who most recently demonstrated to us how quickly and drastically a party’s leadership, economic priorities and ideological direction can change.

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Joseph Dinnage is Deputy Editor of CapX.