LONDON (HPD) — When Liz Truss ran to lead Britain this summer, an ally predicted her first few weeks in office would be turbulent.
But few were prepared for the magnitude of the sound and fury, least of all Truss herself. In just six weeks, the prime minister’s libertarian economic policies have triggered a financial crisis, an emergency central bank intervention, multiple course changes and the firing of her treasury chief.
Now Truss faces a mutiny within the ruling Conservative Party that leaves his leadership hanging in the balance.
Conservative lawmaker Robert Halfon complained on Sunday that recent weeks had brought “one horror story after another.”
“The government has come across as a libertarian jihadist and has treated the whole country like some kind of lab mice on which to run ultra, ultra free market experiments,” he told Sky News.
It is not that the party was not warned. During the summer race to lead the Conservatives, Truss called herself a disrupter who would challenge economic “orthodoxy.” He promised he would cut taxes and cut red tape, and stimulate growth in Britain’s sluggish economy.
His rival, former Treasury chief Rishi Sunak, argued that immediate tax cuts would be unwise amid the economic shock caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the Ukraine war.
The 172,000 members of the Conservative Party, mostly elderly and wealthy, preferred Truss’s optimistic view. He won 57% of the members’ votes to become leader of the ruling party on September 5. The next day, she was appointed prime minister by Queen Elizabeth II in one of the monarch’s last acts before her death on September 8.
Truss’s first days in office were overshadowed by a period of national mourning for the queen. Then, on September 23, Treasury chief Kwasi Kwarteng announced the economic plan that he and Truss had drawn up. It included 45 billion pounds ($50 billion) in tax cuts – including an income tax cut for the highest earners – without an accompanying assessment of how the government would pay for them.
Truss was doing what she and her allies said she would do. The head of the libertarian think tank, Mark Littlewood, predicted over the summer that there would be “fireworks” as the new prime minister pushed through economic reform at “absolutely breakneck speed.”
However, the magnitude of the announcement caught financial markets and political pundits by surprise.