While I waited for Liz Truss’s speech to the Tory party conference last week I amused myself by trying to guess which Abba record they would play as she walked across the stage.
Back in 2018, then prime minister Theresa May had somewhat cheesily sashayed out to Dancing Queen, so perhaps Pound-tumbler Truss would choose another Abba hit, Money, Money, Money. After all, money has dominated her short premiership – your money, my money, the gazillions borrowed to pay for tax cuts when the nation’s credit card is already maxed out, squillions more for help with fuel bills rather than imposing a windfall tax on energy companies, and the extra mortgage costs faced by millions thanks to her ill-fated attempt at showering largesse on the very rich.
Or, I speculated, perhaps she might raise a few wry laughs with a defiant nod to her critics by marching out to the strains of Abba’s final single, Under Attack. No, that was probably a non-starter, as was Truss admitting the severity of her political dire straits by playing Abba’s1975 hit SOS. In the endshe chose M People’sMoving On Up, though probably not to draw attention to increased mortgage repayments, interest rates,food bills, bankers’ bonuses and oil company profits.
A few minutes before she started speaking, on the BBC’s Politics Live the Telegraph’s political commentator had summarised the Truss fiasco as running before she could walk and falling flat on her face. Other TV pundits said they sensed the same dark end-of-days clouds that hung like a wraith around the neck of John Major’s doomed government in the mid-1990s.
I think the atmosphere is more poisonous than 25 years ago. You simply can’t compare the parties of Major and Truss. While I remember thinking I should hold my nose whenever the three Michaels – Portillo, Howard and Heseltine – came on the box, I find myself looking back to those days almost fondly when I see the appalling figures in Truss’s cabinet. The Tories are now led by a Ukip-Brexit Party cabal that includes the likes of Braverman, Kwarteng, Zahawi and Rees-Mogg. When even the Telegraph acknowledges the party has been taken hostage by the right wing, that there’s no longer room for head-banging ultras like Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom, then you know the Conservatives – and far more importantly the country – have a major problem.
A fuller appreciation of the poisonous, uncaring, kick-ass nature of modern Conservatism comes from Jake Berry, the party’s chair, who is MP for Rossendale and Darwen in Lancashire.
“People know that when their bills arrive,” he says, “they can either cut their consumption or they can get a higher salary, higher wages, go out there and get that new job.” I’m guessing that in the absence of high-paid jobs his constituents will be only too eager to oblige by wrapping up and eating less this winter.
It’s clear to me that the ultra-ultras are now so insulated from reality that they seriously believe what the country needs is to reduce benefits, keep public sector wages below inflation, make industrial action by doctors, teachers, nurses and firefighters illegal, and allow uncontrolled fracking. This delusional thinking will surely have this result: the Abba track destined to become Truss’s theme song will be the one about Napoleon’s defeat. Waterloo.
Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe
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