Sketch: Hunt for a leader
“The central responsibility of any government is to do what is necessary for economic stability,” begins the fourth chancellor since July, apparently unashamedly.
“We have had short-term difficulties caused by the lack of an OBR forecast alongside the mini budget,” Jeremy Hunt continues, as if that wasn’t directly because of a decision taken by his (admittedly short-lived) predecessor.
“We need to do more, more quickly,” he says, gearing up to announce the government is going to do less, more slowly, because he is U-turning on basically everything kamiKwasi Kwarteng said three weeks ago.
“The prime minister and I agreed yesterday to reverse almost all the tax measures,” Hunt announces triumphantly.
Behind him, his then boss (clearly in name only) looks on, glaikit. She may have trounced him in the leadership race just weeks ago. He might even have come dead last in that race to be the next prime minister and, to be fair, also failed in the one before that. But who was looking like a total Hunt now, eh?
“I’ve decided that the basic rate of income tax will remain at 20 per cent,” he says. He’s not the hero the country wanted, but he’s the hero it needs (at least in his own head).
And what of the energy price cap? Well, that was the “biggest single expense” and therefore it had to eventually go, even if it means families don’t know how they’ll pay their bills after April. “The prime minister and I have reluctantly agreed it would not be responsible,” he insists.
Liz Truss stares into the middle distance. Not a single thought appears to cross her mind. Though she is blinking alarmingly quickly. Perhaps she’s actually trying to send out a message in Morse code. ‘S.O.S. This Hunt has taken me as a hostage. Send help.’
Or perhaps she is sending a victory message. She was once a member of the Liberal Democrats and what if she never actually left? She’s simply played an absolute blinder as a sleeper agent, a plant to bring down the Tories. ‘Mission accomplished,’ her eyelids flutter. ‘Time to bring me home.’
Hunt appears not to have registered that his party’s destruction is assured. He will go on to make “many difficult decisions, starting today” he says. More “difficult decisions” will be announced on Halloween. Spooky decisions, enough to make everyone’s worst nightmares come true.
But he didn’t want to leave on such a sour note. He likes to think of himself as a bit of a polished showman, after all. “While we do need realism about the challenges ahead, we must never fall into the trap of pessimism,” he insists. It’s not all doom and gloom, he promises. He will pursue “compassionate, Conservative values”.
Yes, compassion. Definitely the word most associated with this bunch. Compassionate for bankers, maybe, who will get to keep their bonuses while everyone else experiences the fruit Liz Truss has single-handedly grown for her economy pie.
Labour’s Rachel Reeves was not content at all with this statement. Rounding on the prime minister – who had definitely not climbed out from under a desk to attend the House for her chancellor’s statement, according to Penny Mordaunt – Reeves asked: “What is she left with?” Truss only continues to stare.
“The prime minister is barely in office, and she is certainly not in power,” Reeves continues. Nor is she, apparently, mentally present in the debating chamber.
The shadow chancellor turns to the man that is in power (again, at least in his own head). “The Tories have run out of credibility and now they are running out of chancellors,” she continues.
That’s not fair. The Tory party should give every one of their MPs a shot of being chancellor for a bit. Fifteen minutes each, in which they’ve to give an emergency statement and U-turn. That should do the trick, calm some of the backbench rebellion. It would see them through until the next general election, surely?
“An arsonist is still an arsonist even if he runs back into a burning building with a bucket of water,” argues Reeves. Well, sure, but if I’m standing there on fire then I’d happily accept the water from the arsonist. Better than no pail at all, or just hoping the arsonist calls an early general election even though that would be against their personal interest.
Later that day, Truss appeared to have come out of her trance a little. At least enough to answer – or make sounds in response to – some questions from the BBC’s Chris Mason.
Will you lead the Tories at the next election, asks Mason. “I will lead the Conservatives into the next general election,” Truss replies robotically.
Definitely? says Mason. “Well, look…” Truss gives a weird laugh that sounds a bit like a software malfunction, before spitting out a “yeah”.
Just days later, it is clear Truss makes as good a clairvoyant as she did party leader and prime minister. Oh well, at least we’ll always have pork markets.