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LONDON — Westminster is in turmoil, Britain’s economy is floundering and Tory MPs are set to choose their fifth prime minister in just over six years.
But as a sign of complete normalcy in this fully functioning Western democracy, Britons have instead spent much of the past week watching a head of iceberg lettuce live, wearing a wig.
Set up by the tabloid Daily Star, the newspaper’s reporters bet big that a 60p supermarket lettuce would outlive Prime Minister Liz Truss, after her fledgling regime was plagued by unprecedented chaos during her first weeks.
And they were right. Truss finally resigned on Thursday, after just 44 days in the job, making her the UK’s shortest prime minister. The Daily Star broke out the champagne, saying, “Lettuce outlived Liz Truss.”
So how did Truss put her salad days behind her and why did she fade in the public eye?
Let POLITICO take you on a whirlwind tour of Truss’ 44-day premiership – but be warned, there are more than a few icebergs ahead.
September 6: It all started so well. After watching her suave but annoying rival Rishi Sunak in a rancorous Tory leadership race, Truss looked triumphant as she took the reins at No 10 Downing Street and vowed to ‘turn Britain into a nation aspirant”. She had good reason to be gay, too, garnering the support of thousands of grassroots Tory members, rallying the major Tory newspapers and confidently brushing aside the fact that the majority of her own Tory MPs had doubts about her competence. . What did they know, after all? They had only worked with Truss at Westminster for the past decade.
September 8: Upon taking office, Truss chose his close friend and neighbor Kwasi Kwarteng as his first finance minister and immediately tasked him with tackling outdated “orthodoxy” in the Treasury. In a savvy first move, Kwarteng immediately fired the ministry’s top official – a man so smart he literally goes by the name of Tom Scholar – and thus ensured that old-fashioned and orthodox qualities like “experience”, “credibility” and “economic literacy” were taken down at the right time…in the midst of a global economic crisis.
Also on September 8: A busy day this one, with Britain’s longest-serving monarch passing away the same afternoon. As the country mourned Queen Elizabeth II, Truss faced his first big communication test at work: how to grasp the nation’s deep sense of grief? She duly seized the moment, ripping lines painstakingly prepared by career managers to pay a heartfelt tribute with all the gusto of a fourth-quarter sales report. The country cried, for at least one Liz.
September 23: The Queen’s death froze normal politics for a few weeks. But the break allowed Team Truss to put the finishing touches on their very own Mona Lisa: the mini-budget. A sleeker and more aerodynamic budget than the normal type, this mini version did away with tired conventions such as “independent tax review by the government’s own watchdog” and “making the sums add up”. Instead, Truss and Kwarteng followed through with debt-funded tax cuts and a multibillion-pound plan to subsidize energy bills. Kwarteng has also shown he is retaining a populist touch with crowd-pleasing measures such as lowering taxes for the UK’s super-rich and scrapping the cap on bankers’ bonuses, all amid a cost-of-living crisis – before setting off for a Champagne reception with hedge fund bosses to party the night away. Cheers!
Woke Markets Cancel Truss
September 26: uh. Then came the backlash. The financial markets – notorious for being stuffed with tofu-munching leftists who hate conservatism and all it stands for – failed to understand the genius of the mini-budget, while the unruly pound, which probably voted to stay in the EU, crashed to its lowest level against the US dollar. Kwarteng, looking a bit shaken, promised he would release all of his fully calculated sums in November, oooh? It sounds good ?
September 28: The pound’s reign of terror continued, and as borrowing costs in the UK soared and British pension funds were on the brink of collapse, the radical communists at the Bank of England were forced to step in with an unprecedented emergency bond buying program ‘to restore the market’. functioning. Their hippie best friends at the International Monetary Fund also chimed in, saying Kwarteng’s plans would “likely increase inequality” and urging the government to “reassess” its tax measures. Relax, guys!
October 3: Phew – she went to the Conservative party conference. Political party conferences, after all, are normally a glorious victory lap for newly crowned leaders, but Truss has once again decided to shatter the status quo by turning his into a deeply embarrassing few days of U-turns, backpedaling and of noisy Tory infighting. Less than 24 hours after insisting she was sticking to her economic plan, Truss suddenly rejected her landmark proposal to cut taxes for the wealthy. Kwarteng admitted the idea had “become a distraction” from the government’s “primary mission”.
October 4: Indeed, the U-turn allowed the real “primary mission” of the government – to unnecessarily piss off its own MPs – to shine through. No sooner had the tax cut been scrapped than Truss’ ever-loyal ministers were on to their next target, publicly pressuring the PM not to impose a cut in real terms to social security payments . One minister even capped off the day by telling a roomful of drunken communications professionals that the government’s own communications strategy was “shit”. And who could argue?
October 10-11: A week after abandoning its flagship policy, the Truss government has tried again to calm the still spooked markets. Kwarteng’s new idea? Bringing forward the release of its next budget plan to a date by no means guaranteed to be, uh, scary: October 31. The Bank of England loved the cut of its jib, again stepping in with major market intervention to prevent what it called a “fire sale” of UK government bonds. Which sounded worrying.
In fact, we really like Orthodoxy, please come back
October 14: After weeks of economic turmoil, Kwarteng was flown home from a trip to Washington DC so he could be fired on the spot as he was still jet lagged – a bad day at the office by the standards of anyone. Finally free from a Chancellor who had repeatedly defied her by *checking the notes* implementing her exact policy wishes to the letter, the Prime Minister then tore up his long-standing pledge to cut taxes for big business , admitting in an epic eight-minute press conference that she had gone “further and faster than the markets expected”. We have all been there. Reaching out to the center of the Conservative party, Truss named former health secretary Jeremy Hunt as his new chancellor, cementing his post as 36-hour faltering prime minister.
October 16: Team Truss’ strenuous efforts to build bridges with his now-mutinous party escalated a notch over the weekend, as a No 10 insider tagged his former leadership rival and former colleague of the Sajid Javid Cabinet – which had just been surveyed. by the Truss team itself about the post of chancellor – “shit”. It didn’t go too well with him, or his buddies.
October 17: Big deal, as Hunt put a bullet through Truss’ entire schedule, live on TV. In a stunning move, the new finance minister released a televised statement in which – by his own admission – he tore up “virtually all” of the mini-budget promises the Truss government had announced a few weeks earlier. Even the energy support package, which Truss supporters clung to as one of the few remaining bright spots of his time as prime minister, was set to be drastically reduced – although beleaguered voters should be able to warm up this winter by warming up standing near the giant “dumpster fire”. ” which has been Westminster for the past six years. Truss capped off another glorious day by avoiding an urgent question in the House of Commons and sending in a junior minister to reassure angry MPs that the British Prime Minister was not, in fact, ‘hiding under a desk “.
October 20: Alright the end of time. A roller coaster day – if the roller coaster was only going downhill – as a pressured Truss first offered another U-turn, this time on pension payments; then a senior Truss aide was suspended as that clever ‘shit’ quote to the Sunday papers was investigated by No 10; then his Home Secretary was fired and posted what was essentially an extended anti-Truss sub-tweet as a resignation letter; then the government somehow turned a really boring vote in the House of Commons into a bitter argument over the ‘manipulation’ of its own MPs, as one of them literally cried on live TV. For those watching from abroad, this is why Brits drink a lot.
21st of October : With the game finally over and his authority shattered, Truss bowed to the inevitable and resigned on Thursday, reeling all of his accomplishments in an 89-second statement on the steps of Downing Street. However, all is not lost. Hidden in a press room in London, there’s a little lettuce that never gave up hope. And in its still crunchy and delicious center lies the promise of national renewal. We can only dream.