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Opinion: Liz Truss could not govern: she had to go

Peter Ladd

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Disclaimer: CARE is non-party-political. This opinion piece represents one writer’s attempt to process the extraordinary goings-on in Westminster from the last few days through a Christian lens.

“It has been a night of astonishing scenes at Westminster, with reports of jostling, manhandling, bullying and shouting outside the Parliamentary lobbies in a supposed vote of confidence in the Government.

The Deputy Chief Whip was reported to left the scene saying, ‘I’m absolutely furious. I just don’t care any more’, before he resigned along with the Chief Whip, but, we’ve just been told, they have now, officially, unresigned. The Home Secretary has, however, definitely gone.

In short, it is total, absolute, abject chaos.”
Tom Brady, ITV News

That’s how the ITV News at 10 began on Wednesday evening this week. Less than 24 hours later, Liz Truss had resigned as Prime Minister.

The word “unprecedented” has been used so many times over the last couple of years (or indeed, in the last couple of months) that it is almost losing its meaning, but by any stretch of the imagination, losing the Chancellor, Home Secretary, and Prime Minister in less than a week, merely 44 days into a new administration, really is without precedent.

When the Government has become the story, rather than the story being the story, something is going seriously wrong in Westminster. Every day seemed to bring some new fresh embarrassment for the Prime Minister, the Conservative Party, and our nation. Already unpopular with those on the left of the party, Truss alienated those on the right too after the dismissal of Suella Braverman, and was left with no allies, no power, and no credibility.

She and her six weeks in office are likely now to be remembered as little more than a chaotic footnote in our history and the answer to a pub quiz question.

As a Christian, I have found it difficult to process how to respond during the turmoil of the last few weeks. In theory, I would be just the kind of person the Conservatives ought to be targeting: young, a floating voter, someone who has voted for the Conservative party at some elections and voted against them at others. And yet I have watched on in surprise, frustration, disillusionment, and eventually shock at what has been going on.

Our first response, regardless of the chaos, and regardless of how self-inflicted that chaos is, must always be prayer for our nation and for our leaders, regardless of our political leanings, and regardless of who is in charge.

God said to his people in Jeremiah:

“Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Jeremiah 29:7

This has always been the responsibility of God’s people, irrespective of circumstances. It was our responsibility as Christians while Liz Truss was in office, and it remains our responsibility now as the Conservative Party selects a new leader. Even if one is diametrically opposed to the values of this government, or thinks they are doing a bad job, we are still to pray for their prosperity: if those words applied to Israel for their captors who carried them off into exile, how much more so do they apply for us.

I really did not wish any failure or embarrassment on Liz Truss whatsoever. But I do wish (as we all do) for effective government in our country. And one simply cannot argue, whatever Jacob Rees-Mogg might say (“this is a government which is working well”), that this has been an effective government over the last few weeks.

Within six weeks (or less, when you take out the period of mourning for the Queen and the Party Conferences), we saw:

  • A range of tax-cutting measures (including abolishing the 45% rate of income tax for top earners) which were so unpopular within the country that they almost all had to be reversed within weeks.

  • A mini-budget which was received so badly that the pound initially fell to an all-time low against the dollar.

  • Panic in the housing industry and the highest mortgage rates since the 2008 Financial Crash.

  • The sacking of Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng for implementing the economic vision Truss had campaigned for in the Leadership Election. Kwarteng is the second shortest serving Chancellor in UK history.

  • Truss not turning up on Monday 17th October, when Keir Starmer tabled an urgent question about the mini-budget, prompting stand-in Penny Mordaunt to say, “The PM is not under a desk.”

  • The Home Secretary Suella Braverman resigning on Wednesday 19th October in a highly pointed statement to Truss about taking responsibility for mistakes. Braverman is the shortest serving Home Secretary in UK history.

  • The Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whip reportedly resigning, only for it to be announced that they hadn’t resigned after all. When questioned on Sky News, Cabinet Member Jacob Rees-Mogg was unable to confirm whether or not they were still in post.

  • Reports that Conservative MPs had been shouted at and physically dragged into the voting lobbies to vote with the Government.

  • A large majority of Conservative Party Members (55% vs 38%) saying Truss should resign

  • Truss having a record net unfavourability of -70 as Prime Minister, according to YouGov. Only 10% of participants had a positive view of her, against 80% having unfavourable views.

  • Such little national respect for the Prime Minister that the Daily Star set up a live feed of an unrefrigerated lettuce and asked which would last longer, the lettuce or Truss. The lettuce won.

Political office is supposed to be a matter of service. The British historian Anthony Seldon referenced this on the BBC News just today:

“They’re there to serve, not to serve their own narrow, tribal interests, but to serve the country, at what is becoming, if it’s not already, a significant crisis.”
Anthony Seldon, BBC News

We live in a nation shaped by Christian discourse; standing for office is seen as (or at least is publicly stated to be) a matter of ‘public service’. As Christians, we have a King who was the perfect example of that in Jesus Christ, who laid aside his own power and came down from heaven ‘to serve, and not to be served.’ (Mark 10:45).

Paul says this about those in government:

“For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good.”
Romans 13:4

When a leader no longer has the ability to do good (whether that is a result of a lack of competence, or a lack of support), it is surely incumbent upon them to go.

Liz Truss had reached the point where, despite having a very substantial majority of 61, she had become so unpopular within the Parliamentary party that she could not guarantee getting her legislation passed. The fact that they turned Labour’s move to ban fracking into a no-confidence vote (then reversed, then confirmed again) in the Truss administration, having only been under her leadership for six weeks, shows how divided the party had become in such a short space of time.

A government which isn’t working has real world consequences. On Tuesday night, the Government’s Public Order Bill was hijacked by Stella Creasy MP, and MPs voted for new measures to criminalise pro-life activity near settings where abortions take place, even if it were as simple as quiet prayer, or offering pastoral support to distressed women. The Government had never intended the bill to be used in that way, and were sufficiently disorganised they were not able to mobilise support against the amendment.

And a leader with no authority cannot lead. Forced to bring in steady pairs of hands to replace Kwasi Kwarteng and Suella Braverman, Liz Truss brought in Jeremy Hunt as Chancellor and Grant Shapps as Home Secretary, neither of them natural allies. For Jeremy Hunt to reverse the majority of her tax cuts made it clear where the balance of power truly lay. It was also a sign of divided government to see Liz Truss announce at Prime Minister’s Questions that she was committed to protecting the Triple Lock, when the Chancellor had refused to do so just two days earlier.

Jesus once said:

“Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.”
Matthew 12:25

A working government is in everyone’s interests. Liz Truss could not govern any more.

Regardless of what comes next, she really had no choice: in the interests of the country, she had to go.

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