• Development Intelligence

The Tory Implosion

So here’s a future A level politics exam question for you: have we all just witnessed the quickest implosion of any governing party in recent western political history? Perhaps the most quickly squandered landslide election victory on record, with Boris causing the fatal damage and Liz giving it the coup de grâce?

The first 100 days of any administration tends to set the tone, thus it is planned, prepared, debated, curated, shaped, edited etc because, as the saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. The Truss team seemed to have missed that module on the Oxford PPE course. Forget 100, did their first 10 days kill their chances?

When we wrote the heading “Labour are worse off and the Tories better off than you might imagine” in early September, it seemed then that the Tories were in hospital but not yet in intensive care. It doesn’t look like that now, does it?

And at the same time, dull old Kier has been given a new lease of life, roaring up the polls. Turns out his strategy of saying and doing nothing interesting, just standing back and watching the Tories self-immolate has worked out rather nicely for him. Even he didn’t realise perhaps how much petrol the Tories had stored up for their own in-house bonfire.

What fundamental mistakes did the Truss team make? The DI team thinks we can pare this down to two very fundamental errors.

The first one has been much written about but not from a simple political perspective. There was simply no ‘pitch rolling’ for such major economic policy change. And it was (a) the second largest budget announcement in recent political history after Anthony Barber’s 1972 budget, way bigger than anything Howe or Lawson ever did in one bound, and (b) it was much larger than trailed even if international financial markets ever bother to listen to what a Tory candidate says in a speech during a leadership debate in Worksop town hall on a balmy July evening. Surprise, as it turns out, is not your friend.

The second error also has not been much covered. Winning the leadership of a divided party after a really bitter leadership election, should mean that you tread carefully, gather your arms around the whole team, win them over, seduce them with your agenda and get them to jointly ‘own’ your policy. Top of the list of things not to do is an ideological blitzkrieg that many of your newly sacked ex ministers (with axes to grind and no prospects) or the opposite ideological wing of your party would struggle to support even in the good times. Remember, Truss only won 32% of the Tory MP vote and only 57% of the membership vote. Boris Johnson, by way of comparison, was supported by more than half of the party’s MPs and two-thirds of the membership.

So can Truss and her team turn this around? Let’s look at some history.

First off, let’s look at the Leader’s personal poll ratings. The norm is that you come into power on a positive number, have a honeymoon period where your numbers go up and then the long slow decline in your political popularity begins until you slink out of office once everything has been blamed on you. The problem for poor Liz is that she started on a substantial minus number (-30%), her ‘honeymoon bounce’ was actually a heroic nosedive to even more unpopularity (currently at -59%) and as she is boxed in by such an awful economic situation, it’s difficult see, even wearing the rosiest of rose tinted spectacles, how on earth those numbers could ever possibly head upwards. For perspective, she is 1% off where St Jeremy of Corbyn was at his lowest point!

Then let’s look at just two of the economic headwinds, perhaps the two that most resonate with voters in a practical, everyday sense. The Truss game plan is predicated upon the OBR’s projection that the current inflationary pain will have subsided by late 2023. (Should anyone ever believe OBR projections ever again with their truly awful track record of ever getting close to what actually transpires?) The thinking goes: get inflation down with a good dose of monetarist medicine and the voters will reward you at the next General Election in late 2024. The problem is the other economic metric of choice here: the mortgage rate. The OBR’s projections point to that being somewhere around 5% still on the same timeline. The DI team cannot see too many home owning voters (should there still be any by then) flocking to the polls to vote Tory on that basis.

And then of course there is what we might call the ‘mood music’. A major problem the Tories have is that the commentariat/media narrative is now set: ‘incompetent ideological Right-wing Tories crashed the economy’. Things would have to go superhumanly better to have any meaningful impact on that narrative. Right now, if the Tory Party invented a cure for 75% of all terminal cancers this afternoon, the headline would read: ‘Tories condemn 25% of all cancer patients to death’.

Maybe we have misjudged the brilliance of Liz and KamiKwazi? Maybe their plan is so subtly clever that we mere mortals have not noticed its strategic beauty? Maybe, like Lazarus and John Major, they will rise from the dead and surprise us all. Fair to say that the DI team are not placing their life savings on that outcome right now.