UK’s 56th prime minister must prioritise energy crisis

Commentary Downing Street Policy & Politics

The UK’s 56th prime minister will finally be announced on Monday and installed by the Queen (in Scotland) on Tuesday after an unnecessarily long, drawn out leadership campaign. As an exercise in navel-gazing during a summer of social, political and economic crises, it is unrivalled.

Liz Truss is the blue-hot favourite to replace Boris Johnson in Number 10 and at the very top of her to-do-list must be fixing the energy crisis. No matter what she said about tax cuts.

The energy crisis is driving and exacerbating the cost of living crisis. It is fuelling inflation, increasing anxiety levels and deepening the sense of despair felt around the country. Addressing it must be the number one priority whether Truss or Rishi Sunak becomes prime minister.

A price freeze, as long proposed by Labour and opposition parties is the most obvious and practical solution. It will help create some certainty for households and businesses as well as pulling back the reins on the rampant inflation, alleviate the

Truss is increasing likely to adopt the price freeze plan that would cap energy bills at their current rates – ie. pre-October’s imminent 80% catastrophic rises. However, she still won’t announce what her government will do so the fears, uncertainty, dread and grim sense of gloom persists.

On Sunday she claimed to “understand that people are suffering with eye watering energy bills”. So much so that she told Laura Kunessberg’s new Sunday morning show that she won’t actually announce her plan to help until sometime this week. There was nothing more forthcoming than that. There are no more details available. There is no clue about what she will actually do.

But at least she understands people are suffering.

What prime minister Truss will also have to understand is that the crises afflicting Britain are myriad. They are also number one priorities for the people most affected by them.

Food prices are soaring. By October the price of cooking it will have tripled in just six months. Heating’s rising too, with summer ending and winter on its way.

The crisis stricken NHS, the disaster that’s social care, the ambulance service, GPs and dentistry all require major help. Strikes are forecast for hospitals and schoolrooms over pay, working conditions, staffing levels and general dissatisfaction and discontent.

Already stretched budgets – too stretched to offer a real terms pay rise for staff hit instead with a real terms pay cut – will have to find the extra to keep the lights on, to power their buildings and keep their staff, patients and pupils warm.

All government buildings, all council premises will find their budgets eaten up by energy bills. Meanwhile, museums and libraries proposed as being sanctuaries and warm banks for people this winter are already wondering how they will afford to keep their doors open never mind provide refuge for the cold and vulnerable.

Unlike for households, businesses don’t have an energy price cap and they are truly paying the cost of the energy crisis. Costs are becoming unmanageable. So much so that 70% of British pubs face closing this winter while factories are limiting output to limit overheads while energy providers have been wargaming blackouts.

And there are strikes everywhere affecting bins, buses, trains, courts, ports and post. And more strikes are ever more likely with nurses and teachers next in line to walk out.

Then there’s the Northern Ireland protocol – and the rest of Brexit – that is still to be got done and sorted out. All without further destabilising a government-less country. Or risking its hard won peace.  Or indeed the UK’s international reputation and standing by virtue of its own government legislating to break international law.

Interest rates are rising and under it all, rampant inflation is making everything else ever more expensive and the economic outlook ever gloomier.

Tax cuts for richest under prime minister Truss

While Truss and Sunak toured the country, giving the same answers to the same questions for a groundhog-like 50 days, Labour and other opposition parties have been calling for immediate action, a recall of parliament and an actual freeze to the energy price cap.

Not so the “zombie” Tories. Not when they could bray their approval for Truss, Britain’s top diplomat (by virtue of her foreign secretary status) for answering “the juries out” when asked if Nato ally France was “friend or enemy?” And when they could roar more when she promised more deregulation across the board (despite pleas from farmers worried about standards, from workers concerned about pay, activists fearful for animals and the planet and from surfers freaked out about raw sewage). And loud cheers too for more fracking, more fossil fuel drilling and mining, for Rwanda and immigration, and more red meat and culture wars.

And of course the tax cuts. Those that clearly, and as Truss herself admits, benefit the richest members of society most. Because it is right and proper, she says, that the wealthiest get to enjoy the biggest tax cuts. And they will when Truss becomes prime minister.

Labour has called for whoever wins the election to put aside ideology and focus on helping people through the crises.

A perception exists that Truss has no ideological baggage given she has flip-flopped her way to the top of British politics by changing her mind and performing complete u-turns on multiple major issues – Truss’s top hits being total twists on Brexit and wanting to abolish the royal family.

But it’s dangerous to believe Truss has no beliefs because she has limpet-like attached herself to Thatcherism with all the clichéd zeal of a convert and the wardrobe choices of an unber-stan. By ingratiating herself at the hustings with a very particular “selectorate” to get elected prime minister, Truss has signalled her government will be even more rightwing than Johnson’s.

Sunak, in trying to appeal to the very same 200,000 Conservative party members, actually warned fellow Tories that Trussonomics may well be immoral.

Britain needs to heed that warning too because the same Tory membership who elected Boris ‘let the bodies pile high’ Johnson into Number 10 has decided the next prime minister. It is they , most probably Truss, who will determine how the nation’s health, security and long term future will ultimately be decided.



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