If Rishi Sunak ain’t got the blues he ain’t got the picture. Until just a few days ago he still seemed vaguely in with a chance of becoming our next Prime Minister. But it now looks much more likely Britain’s government will turn a distinctly darker shade of blue within a fortnight. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, the betting is we’re going to have to trust in Truss, whether we like it or not.
The 1958 hit song Summertime Blues, that tells of a guy who feels hard done by, contains a telling line about his attempt to get help from his local congressman.
‘He said quote – I’d like to help you son, but you’re too young to vote.’
Parallel problem here, and now. Those who don’t have a vote must just suck it up. That’s the ninety-nine-per-cent-plus of the population that isn’t a Tory Party member.
Sunak’s team’s still saying the people he’s getting out to meet definitely like him. But he’s fast running out of time, and the figures are becoming brutally clear.
Sir John Curtice, the nation’s number one number cruncher, aka the guru’s guru, gives him a meagre five per cent chance, unless Liz Truss: ‘Fouls up in some spectacular way.’
Doesn’t look like it. After a pretty wobbly start she’s grown into her own character, and her poll lead still comfortably tops thirty per cent.
Yeah but hang on a minute, say Sunak supporters. Lots of Tory MPs say he’s the coolest dude in the brood.
Clutching at straws? Sounds like it, given that Tory MPs have no more say in who wins than the man on the moon. Or the man, or woman, in the street, come to think of it.
On September 5th then, there’s likely to be a lot of huffing and puffing in parliament, given that many of Truss’s contemporaries rate her underwhelming to bad.
Most of the party’s grownups, who simply brand her lightweight, assumed even though she got into the final two she’d implode anyway.
Then again, as Margaret Thatcher said when she finally conceded she was done for: ‘It’s a funny old world.’
Regular readers may also find it a bit odd that only last week this column was giving Sunak something of a sporting chance.
But the reality is that the late flat-out gallop simply hasn’t materialised. Besides which, it’s a journalist’s privilege to flatly contradict him or herself in a matter of days.
Something Boris Johnson is no doubt looking forward to, getting back into the mindset that he never really forsook.
As a newspaper columnist he had all the licence in the world. The difference being a scribbler only really needs to read runes and provide food for thought.
Unlike a Prime Minister, who’s supposed to dream up policies, that have to, well, you know, stick.
But the man’s clearly demob happy. He’s snuck off from Downing Street to the PM’s pretty grace and favour home, Chequers, via two overseas holidays.
And while he’s basically butted out, it’s said Truss is now spending half her time preparing to butt in.
What she’ll make of the £840 a roll Lulu Lytle wallpaper in the flat above the shop is anyone’s guess.
Unlike the stylistically elitist Carrie Johnson, she comes across as more of John Lewis kinda gal.
But there’s also the small matter of what’ll be impacting on the rest of us. That’s to say what she actually plans to do in office.
The starting point, probably what comfortably off Tory members love about her, is that she is, as one colleague puts it, ‘allergic to tax’.
‘She has a pathological hatred for people taking her money,’ another ally adds.
This attitude has run through her every pronouncement throughout the campaign like lettering in sticks of seaside rock.
In tandem come a basic set of premises that go back a lot further than just this summer.
A recording got leaked last week of her saying British workers needed ‘more graft’, and lacked the ‘skill and application’ of foreign rivals.
This conversation with Treasury officials, which took place five years ago, also featured a reference to a book she co-authored in 2012.
In it, British workers were described as among the ‘worst idlers in the world’. Ok, she claims she didn’t write that bit, but even so …
Oh, and back in 2009, when she was deputy boss of a right-wing think tank, she worked on a report that called for cuts to GPs pay and axing universal child benefit.
Gotcha, says the opposition’s deputy leader. ‘Liz Truss in charge would leave working people facing a cost-of-living emergency with higher bills and poorer services.’
But such counterattacks do a fat lot of good, according to the party’s pessimists.
As one dispirited senior Labour figure put it: ‘They’ve been kicking seven shades of sh*t out of each other all summer, but it’s still all about them.
‘Keir is still not cutting through. He could run naked down Whitehall yelling out new policies and Liz Truss’s hat would get more attention.’
You’re not wrong there, Tory optimists smirk. One of them puts it particularly bluntly:
‘Whoever out of Liz and Rishi emerges victorious will be battle-hardened. They’ll be in the mood for a scrap and Liz, in particular, always takes a gun to a knife fight.’
But assuming she is the last woman standing at the OK Corral, her handy six-shooter may not be much use in her fight against hard reality.
‘As Prime Minister, Liz will deliver an economy that is high wage, high growth and low tax,’ says her team.
Oh, really? Says Paul Johnson. As head of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, he does know his stuff about money. And here’s his take:
‘We can have some combination of sound public finances, a well-funded welfare state and tax cuts. We can’t have all three.’
However, Truss is not putting it in so many words, yet, but between the lines she seems to be saying: ‘Just watch me.’
With the economy going into a tailspin, hard times facing millions and little short of a general strike in the offing, echoes of the ugliest aspects of the 1970’s are emerging.
Back then, Margaret Thatcher also defied those she witheringly termed ‘the wets’ in her own cabinet, and went to war with militant unionism in all its manifestations.
British industry did indeed emerge leaner and fitter. Eventually. But the cost, in terms of wholesale unemployment and entire communities shredded, was massive.
Likewise, it has to be admitted, the problem at the time. Not for nothing was the UK sometimes referred to as the ‘sick man of Europe’.
Nonetheless, just as it’s been suggested Covid lockdowns did more damage than the disease itself, you do wonder about some remedies, especially in medieval times.
Cambridge University Library has been busy digitising some eight thousand medical recipes, mostly from the fourteenth and fifteen centuries.
You got gout? Easy-peasy. Just bake a salted owl, grind it into powder and it’s job done.
And cataracts were apparently just as easy to sort. Simply mix a hare’s gall bladder with honey and use it to tickle your eye with a feather.
Sounds like something like you do when it gets a bit parky.
You tickle your, well, you know. Let’s just say particularly nasty weather.
Watch Peter’s report HERE
Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.
Click the banner to share on Facebook