Liz Truss or No Liz Truss, Things Are Bleaker in Britain Than Anyone Realizes

Liz Truss or No Liz Truss, Things Are Bleaker in Britain Than Anyone Realizes

Liz Truss or No Liz Truss, Things Are Bleaker in Britain Than Anyone Realizes

As jaws drop around the world over the resignation of the UK’s shortest-lived prime minister, life here is getting considerably worse by the day.

Facebook
Twitter
Email
Flipboard
Pocket

London—A mere 44 days since she became the United Kingdom’s fifth prime minister in nearly as many years, Liz Truss has quit, amid chaos unseen in the Houses of Parliament since Guy Fawkes tried to blow it up. Things got so heated in Westminster on Wednesday that a Tory member of Parliament who’s served 17 years gave an interview calling the government’s actions “inexcusable,” “pitiful,” and an “absolute disgrace,” adding that he was “livid” and tired of “talentless people.” Despite hers being the shortest premiership in UK history, Truss’s fall has been expected for days, with memes circulating on the Internet wagering whether Truss would last longer as head of state than the shelf life of an actual head of lettuce (she didn’t). But while the resignation of yet another disastrous prime minister is certainly front-page news, behind the headlines and memes spiraling crises are threatening to engulf the nation thanks to a dozen years of Conservative policies.

It’s hard to convey just how desperate things are getting all over the UK for everyday Britons. To begin with, there’s the cost-of-living crisis that’s been out of control since last year. From April to June of 2021, 15 percent of people living in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland suffered food insecurity. That same year, nearly 2.2 million Britons relied on food banks to get by—a fact made all the more shocking when you consider that in 2010 that figure hovered at just over 40,000. Now, with inflation rising at rates unseen since the 1980s, food prices have gone up by nearly 15 percent, leaving many more unable to feed their families.

At the same time, energy prices have skyrocketed, in part because of the war in Ukraine—but also thanks to successive government failures to secure the energy supply by any number of sensible measures, including divesting the national grid of fossil fuels in favor of autonomous renewable energy sources. Instead, Truss’s predecessor, Boris Johnson—remember him?—bailed out private energy companies using taxpayer money, and Truss went on to promise a subsidy for energy bills with an energy price guarantee (EPG) for a two-year period starting this month. The plan, which capped consumer prices—meaning the government would pick up the rest of the energy bill increases in another massive transfer of public money to energy companies—was projected to cost anywhere between £72 billion to £140 billion ($81 billion to $158 billion). Even with the EPG, which the brand-new chancellor of the exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, promptly slashed down to six months this week, rising energy prices were already going to cost consumers a whopping 96 percent more than last winter—meaning that millions could die this winter from poverty and cold homes.

And that’s just for those who can keep their homes. A toxic combination of rising interest rates and erratic economic policies have pushed mortgages through the proverbial roof. As mortgage rates reach a 14-year high, some Britons are expecting their monthly mortgage costs to increase from a 1.5 percent to a 6 percent interest rate—a “financially ruinous” jump. Rent prices have also soared by an average of almost 10 percent in recent months across the United Kingdom, pushing people out of their homes and onto the streets just as winter looms. The National Health Service is also expecting the “toughest winter on record” in England as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic converges with the winter flu and pneumonia epidemics. Already falling apart at the seams thanks to years of underfunding, stealth privatization, and the pandemic, the NHS is running with 132,000 unfilled staff vacancies as 7 million people wait for treatment (up from 4.4 million in 2020).

Needless to say, in the month and a half that Truss lasted as premier, she did nothing to address the NHS’s gaping wounds, or the housing or cost-of-living crises threatening peoples’ lives and livelihoods. Instead, the PM and her cabinet attempted to slash the top rate of taxes for those earning over £150,000 ($170,000) and eliminate the corporate tax increase her predecessor had planned—“tried” being the operative word here, given that within weeks after these plans were announced by her erstwhile chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, he and his successor, Hunt, promptly retracted both in response to pressure from the International Monetary Fund and others. Truss—who it should be remembered once worked for the oil giant Shell—did manage to lift a ban on fracking, with members of her party going so far as to “manhandle” Tory MPs on Wednesday to force them to vote against a renewal of the fracking ban. And in another win for the draconian politics that have come to dominate the UK, she also managed to push through a further crackdown on the right to protest or to take industrial action, aimed at climate activist groups like Extinction Rebellion and railway workers striking for better wages.

All the blame for these crises, however, cannot be placed solely at Truss’s Thatcheresque shoes. Although the latest disgraced prime minister served in every single Tory prime minister’s cabinet since 2012, her entire party needs to own up to the state they’ve left Britain in. For now, it’s impossible to say who will replace Truss in the coming weeks, though apparently Boris Johnson–currently on yet another vacation in the Caribbean—is putting out feelers for the comeback he’d eerily promised us. What is already clear is that after 12 years of Tories, expecting another Conservative to somehow “steady the ship” is nothing short of madness. Britain will suffer repeat versions of the chaos—with the same (if not worse) results—so long as this party maintains its death grip on Parliament. The only resort left to Britons who want a brighter future than David Cameron, Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss, or any of their ilk can offer is to demand a general election faster than Tories can say “new prime minister.”

Dear reader,

I hope you enjoyed the article you just read. It’s just one of the many deeply-reported and boundary-pushing stories we publish everyday at The Nation. In a time of continued erosion of our fundamental rights and urgent global struggles for peace, independent journalism is now more vital than ever.

As a Nation reader, you are likely an engaged progressive who is passionate about bold ideas. I know I can count on you to help sustain our mission-driven journalism.

This month, we’re kicking off an ambitious Summer Fundraising Campaign with the goal of raising $15,000. With your support, we can continue to produce the hard-hitting journalism you rely on to cut through the noise of conservative, corporate media. Please, donate today.

A better world is out there—and we need your support to reach it.

Onwards,

Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

Ad Policy
x