The Italian Ambassador to Britain is this week a very grumpy man. The source of his angst is the cover of The Economist newspaper, which this week reads “welcome to Britaly,” alongside a mock-up of Liz Truss as a kind of Milanese Boudicca, branding spaghetti atop her spear and protected by a shield made of pizza. Rome’s man in St James’ thinks the stereotypes are outdated, and it’s unfair to associate a perfectly lovely people and culture with the basket case that is British politics. The Economist will no doubt smooth over relations (perhaps over a macchiato) but he has a point: Westminster is a mess.
Liz Truss’ resignation yesterday had become almost inevitable in recent days, but it remained somewhat shocking. The shortest tenure as Prime Minister ever, at a time at which leadership and grip is needed more than ever. What a mess.
The battle to become the next incumbent of Downing Street has begun in earnest but will mercifully be over sooner rather than later. Britain lost an entire summer thanks to the interminable leadership contest – a summer during which the Treasury, had it been so instructed, could have been working on a better designed package to support the most vulnerable through higher energy prices, rather than the one-size-fits-all nonsense announced in a panic by Truss that effectively holed her economic policy below the waterline. We cannot afford that again.
Whoever becomes the next Prime Minister should borrow one thing – and perhaps one thing only – from Liz Truss, however. She and her first Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, did identify Britain’s biggest problem: low growth rates, and an expanding state. Their attempts to address this dilemma were cack-handed, to say the least. But that doesn’t mean their diagnosis of Britain’s ills was that far off.
The first thing the new Prime Minister must do is re-appoint Jeremy Hunt as Chancellor. The second is to sit down with him and come up with a plan for growing Britain’s economy – without throwing away their credibility.