If it weren’t for the fact he had trashed the economy and increased many mortgages by £500 a month, it would be hard not to to feel a wee bit sorry for Kwasi Kwarteng. After all, he was only doing exactly what Liz Truss wanted. Indeed, if you believe the briefings – AKA spin – it was Truss who had been keen to cut the top rate of tax. But the unexpected downtime does give the former chancellor months, possibly years, to catch up with his reading. And I would recommend that he starts with How to Teach Economics to Your Dog. A few years ago, Anthony McGowan wrote How to Teach Philosophy to Your Dog – an account of the conversations he had with his dog, Monty, while out on their walks. I don’t know about Monty but it certainly taught me a lot. Now McGowan and his wife, Rebecca Campbell, a lecturer at the London School of Economics, have written an equally engaging and at times touching book to try to explain to Monty the basics of why the country is falling apart. As you would expect of a philosopher hound, Monty is a natural sceptic and mistrusts the way economics masquerades as hard science with unquantifiable equations that can mean anything you want them to mean. But he has also had to accept he is sometimes the beneficiary of trickle-down economics. On his walks he is very partial to leftover kebabs that may have ended up on the pavement. Monty has also reluctantly come to accept the power of the free markets. Though his solution to the current crisis would be to increase public spending, the financial markets and Jeremy Hunt’s answer seems to be austerity 2.0. I guess we’ll find out soon enough who was right.
You’d have thought that the Conservatives would have wanted to obliterate their recent party conference from their collective memory. But the wheels of commerce continue to turn and I have recently had two emails from the official Tory party shop informing me they still have unsold merchandise left over from Birmingham and to get my order in. Top of the list of things that are still up for grabs are “In Liz we Truss” coffee mugs – made in China and yours for £14.99 – and T-shirts, a snip at £24.99. Given that Liz may not survive the week, I’d have thought Truss merch might have a certain collector’s value. Especially as she may be the shortest-serving prime minister of all time. I must confess that I’m tempted myself. The mug could go with all my other Tory party memorabilia from those who didn’t even become leader. From this year, there is the Penny Mordaunt “PM4PM” sticker. Though there is every chance she may be bringing out a second edition for another tilt at the top job in the coming months. Going further back, to 2019, there is the mobile phone charger that Matt “Digital” Hancock gave to the 10 journalists who bothered to turn up to his leadership launch event. All the more treasured because it never worked and he dropped out of the leadership race days after telling everyone why he was the right man to lead the party. But pride of place goes to my electric blue “Leadsom4Leader” T-shirt, which was worn by about six people as they marched on Westminster in 2016 shouting “Who do we want?” “Andrea Leadsom,” “When do we want her?” “Sometime around September.” Happy days.
I’m beginning to wonder if I am actually the problem. I always knew that being a political sketch writer would be fun when I started in early 2014 but I somehow imagined it would be a quiet, niche job. Something that would appeal to political nerds such as myself. Since then it’s been pretty much full-on chaos. The Scottish independence referendum. The Brexit referendum: we’re still years from sorting out the fallout. Three general elections and counting. Four prime ministers and counting. Three Labour leaders. The pandemic. Partygate. Trussonomics. It just never stops. But this week has been the biggest shambles yet. It started with Hunt interrupting the schedules with a TV announcement that we weren’t to panic but he was undoing the entire mini-budget. It was like a military coup. Then Truss refused to come out of her office to answer an urgent question and Mordaunt was forced to tell the Commons that she wasn’t actually hiding under her desk. Tuesday produced a brief lull, but today saw a full-on Trussterfuck. Starting with a PMQs in which Lino Liz – Leader In Name Only – died on her feet. Tory MPs couldn’t look her in the eye. Then the Guardian’s brilliant political editor, Pippa Crerar, came back from lunch to break the news that Suella Braverman had been sacked as home secretary. That will teach her to mess with the Guardian-reading, tofu-eating wokerati. It was thrilling to be in the same room as Crerar, Peter Walker and Aubrey Allegretti stood up the story ahead of the other papers. The day ended with Tory MPs in open revolt and being bundled through the no lobby for the fracking vote. Downing Street didn’t even know if Truss had remembered to vote – it would be very on-brand for her to have in effect voted for no confidence in herself – or whether the chief whip had resigned or not. It can’t go on like this. But it probably will.
Things move quickly. Those “In Liz we Truss” coffee mugs the Tory party were hassling me to buy earlier in the week? Well, it now turns out that they have been erased from the Conservatives’ online shop. Sent for landfill. Click on the link and you just get an error message. I’m rather regretting not having bought a couple. Weirdly, given that most people in the media have been talking about little else since her disastrous mini-budget, Truss’s actual resignation speech rather took everyone by surprise. Normally these things come telegraphed hours in advance to give everyone plenty of time to get to Downing Street in time for the announcement. This time we all got little more than half an hour’s notice. It was a rather drab and sad affair. There were no teary-eyed members of the Downing Street staff gathered on one side of the building. No faithful MPs waiting to see her off into the political afterlife on the other. Just Truss and her husband. He looked bemused: she looked vaguely relieved. As if almost happy that the agony was over. Her speech lasted little more than a couple of minutes. And like Boris Johnson before her, she made no effort to apologise for the misery she had caused. But hey. At least her own future looks secure. As a former prime minister she will be in line for an allowance of up to £115K a year. So now we’re on to a week of infighting in which Tory MPs will try to stitch up a unity candidate without needing to have a vote of the members. Good luck with that. The two favourites are Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson. Neither side’s supporters can stand the other. So much for democracy. The UK is more like a failed state.
We need to talk about Spurs. If you look at the table, Tottenham have made their best ever start to a Premier league campaign and are currently in third place. I’m not sure quite how this has happened, though the pundits will no doubt point to the tactics of the manager, Antonio Conte. Which only goes to show that the more football I watch, the less I understand it. Because the main tactics – at least for the home games, of which we have won all five – that I can determine, are to slow the game down and pass the ball sideways for minutes on end. Hoping to lure the opposition into a state of acute boredom, during which someone goes to sleep to allow us to score. Which we always seem to do sometime in the second half. The tactics for last night’s game away to Manchester United were even more bizarre. During the first half our main strategy was to allow United unlimited shots on goal, hoping they would miss, while doing everything we could not to venture out of our own half. It sort of worked as we went into half-time at 0-0. Early in the second half, United went ahead courtesy of a deflected shot, but still it didn’t occur to Spurs to try to move up the other end to attempt to equalise. Eventually, Manchester United deservedly scored a second, and even then we never tried to find a way back into the game. Conte’s only change of tactics was to make five substitutions after the 80th minute, by which time the game was over. No doubt many fans will call me a halfwit, but I still think football should be entertaining. And watching the current team is like watching paint dry. We play Newcastle on Sunday. I expect we will win. But I don’t expect it to be fun.
Digested week, digested: 45 days.