Before moving on to cover some of the many issues of concern as we approach the beginning of a new and important month, allow me to echo the words of the BBC’s John Simpson when he said in a tweet earlier today:
“Really sad that Mikhail Gorbachev has died: a decent, well intentioned, principled man who tried to rescue the unrescuable” Simpson goes on to say “in private he was charming and surprisingly amusing. It wasn’t his fault that things went so wrong.”
I move on – tomorrow starts a new month and one in which the UK will have a new Prime Minister. What follows is very much a personal view and may well be filled with holes but it is what I sense along with some of the many issues of concern.
In less than one week Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth will, either from Balmoral or Windsor, ask whoever is to become her fifteenth prime minister to form a new government. Prime Ministers come and go of course but thankfully, Her Majesty the Queen stays the same. Long may that be so.
We will probably never know what Her Majesty thought of each of her individual PM’s although we do know that she greatly admired her first, Sir Winston Churchill, had a good relationship with Harold Macmillan, Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, listened to Tony Blair, struggled albeit to an extent, probably deep down respected, Margaret Thatcher and somehow mana coped with all the others. What a record for someone who has also known and for the most part, clearly liked the majority of US presidents she has met and as I recall, had a superb relationship with three important Commonwealth prime ministers during her reign, Australia’s Sir Robert Menzies, Canada’s John Diefenbaker and India’s Pandit Nehru.
So much for history and maybe less said the better about the outgoing PM Boris Johnson. This time next week the new incumbent in No 10 will be either of Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak.
If I was to wear my common sense hat then I would, despite his loathing of and poor understanding of defence, my vote if I had one, would be for Rishi Sunak. But instead and despite several gaffs during the campaign and an insane ability to promise far more than she could possibly ever deliver, I fear that what we will get is most probably Liz Truss.
Now I would be dishonest if I was not to admit that the prospect of Liz Truss, despite her promises in relation to increasing defence spend as a percentage of GDP and to re-examine the now somewhat discredited in parts, Integrated Review (Global Britain in a Competitive Age’) and the subsequent ‘Defence Command Paper’ – both published in March 2021, why is it that the prospect of Liz Truss as our next PM fills me with foreboding?
Firstly, I accept that I may at some point need to eat my words. She might turn out to be the perfect choice on the basis that most usually, a nation gets what it deserves. I will happily do that should it prove necessary and yes, I will eat humble pie.
In attempting to forge a way through the current economic crisis and one that we probably know will likely get much worse before it gets better, if she is elected PM next week, I would suggest that her biggest enemies will be a combination of the Treasury, Press and Media. The former will be obstinate – the latter will do everything to make her life extremely difficult. Liz Truss has qualities but sadly, given the rather ridiculous remarks she made in relation to the question put to her about relations with France, the lack of diplomacy clearly shows that they are not in abundance.
And then there was that proposed BBC interview on Monday evening which she pulled out of. It was all very well for Theresa May and Boris Johnson to avoid doing media interviews if they possibly could but to be elected as PM and, at the last minute, to refuse to be interviewed by a senior respected BBC journalist may turn out to have been the worst decision of her campaign so far.
Neither, however irksome one may find her, can or should Liz Truss have simply dismissed the Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon by saying that she will ‘ignore her’.
Still, we are where we are and what we will probably get as the next PM is what you see. She is no Margaret Thatcher and whether she has the character and leadership credentials to keep her party in line until late 2024 or early 2025 before the next General Election must be called remains to be seen. Might, if elected next week, she decide to repeat the folly of Theresa May and call a snap General Election? I doubt that she will.
Of course, although she has committed to do many things during her campaign in respect of energy prices, inflation and so on, it will be down to her Chancellor of Exchequer whoever that turns out to be and, more importantly perhaps, future interest rate policies from the Bank of England over which she has no control. Promising unaffordable tax and VAT cuts in the hope of spurring the economy, sorting out energy policy, the NHS and a raft of other issues doesn’t stack up to me but as I say, I am very happy to be proved wrong.
That the UK is far from alone in attempting to find ways out of the current range of very difficult issues. Inflation is rife wherever one goes in Europe and North America and as yet, there is no concerted action of world leaders to dampen it down. The UK may be far better off in respect of energy issues that say Germany is but suggesting that she would allow more licences in the North Sea when she knows full well that gas prices are based on an international market price seems poorly thought through.
As to Rishi Sunak, you played your cards pretty well and while anything can happen yet, I hope that one day you get the chance that you fully deserve.
Deep down the belief appears to be that when the next General Election is called the Conservative Party will lose out to Labour. Maybe it will but if that is what might occur in a couple of years from now the Labour Party has significant work to do. That its leader has qualities is without doubt but does he have leadership qualities sufficient to provide voters with the confidence that they might need to elect him? The jury on that is out and will remain so for quite a while yet.
Of course, as we know throughout recent political history, voters often tend to be are fickle and who knows, it may be that the Liberal Democrats make considerable gains and cause severe difficulties for the two major political parties. I will make no projections other than to say that the many problems that the UK has post Brexit, post pandemic and through and hopefully soon, post Ukraine will take far more than two years to sort – it may take two decades along with significant pain along the way.
Let us not kid ourselves that whoever is chosen by the Conservative Party and Her Majesty the Queen to be her next and fifteenth prime minister will have an easy ride. Let us not kid ourselves that within a world that is slowly rejecting globalisation that we have real and meaningful solutions.
I count myself fortunate in having lived, worked and survived through the very difficult economic period in the 1970’s. I am an optimist at heart but with what I see as the political and economic issues that lie ahead, optimism for now is on the back burner.
(Commentary will next appear on Thursday)
CHW (London – 31st August 2022)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS