Tomorrow the country bids farewell to the age of Boris and a new Prime Minister will be announced. All the polls tell us it will be Liz Truss crowned the victor. A new Elizabethan age will begin.
Liz – a born again Brexiteer – is expected to toast her success with a glass of British bubbly. But is she inheriting a poisoned chalice?
Liz Truss is expected to storm to victory in the Tory leadership election
The next PM has one of the toughest in-trays of any peacetime leader. Inflation is rocketing to eye watering levels not seen since the 1970s.
Energy bills are monstrous and going to get bigger – sparking dire warnings that Brits will freeze in their homes this winter. Step outside and things aren’t any better.
Trade union chiefs are grinding the country to a halt with rail, bin and postal strikes. The pound is tumbling. And the economy appears to be grimly sliding into recession.
There are even warnings a pint could cost £14 in London within a couple of years. It’s enough to make you choke on your beer.
So what are the main challenges facing the next PM? And does Liz have what it takes to lead our nation through the coming storm?
As one senior Tory told me: “The next few months are going to be grim. It will be like a ship battered by a hurricane – every day.”
Cost of Living:
Top of the to do list will be the economy, and how to ease the brutal cost of living crisis.
We are about to suffer the biggest hit to our pockets in 100 years, experts at the Resolution Foundation predict.
The energy price cap is nearly doubling to £3,549 and predicted to hit £6,600 next year. A bleak midwinter lies ahead.
Frontrunner Liz plans to hold an emergency mini budget on September 21 and has announced plans to axe the rises in corporation tax and NICs and tear up green levies on energy bills.
But she will have to do something much bigger than that to keep the wolf from the door.
As a senior Truss backer puts it: “Her original prescription looks too small now. It’s like taking a water pistol to a war zone. She will need to do more.”
She is expected to increase universal credit and help for pensioners and is contemplating big tax cuts, like slashing VAT by 5 per cent.
With schools, hospitals, businesses and pubs all struggling, the clamour for help is deafening.
The trick will be to spend money shielding the vulnerable without spooking the markets.
Gerard Lyons – one of the economists closest to Miss Truss – says she needs to “hit the ground running” and do something big early on to show voters and investors that she has a credible economic plan.
Boosting the economy:
Her next big task is to put rocket boosters under the economy. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has sent gas and food prices soaring and dealt a massive blow to a European economy only just getting off its knees after Covid.
But UK growth was lagging well before the tanks rolled in. Liz has vowed to take on the “Treasury orthodoxy” by slashing taxes and red tape.
This will be music to the ears of Brits clobbered with the highest taxes since the 1940s. But we need to get growth moving – urgently.
Meanwhile, strikes are crippling Britain. Trains aren’t running. Rubbish is being left to pile up on the streets of Edinburgh. Teachers and nurses are threatening mass walkouts.
The NHS and law and order:
And our public services – including the NHS – are buckling. People can’t get a face to face GP appointment.
Waiting lists are spiralling. Ambulances are stuck in giant queues outside hospitals unable to drop patients off because of a lack of beds.
Yet health spending is gobbling up more and more of UK taxpayers’ cash.
It is predicted to account for 44 per cent of all day to day public spending by 2024/5 – nearly doubling in the past 20 years. Whoever moves into No10 tomorrow must get the NHS fighting fit again.
The same is true for tackling crime and the small boats crisis. If you are burgled, police too often refuse to even bother visiting your home to investigate.
While each day brings fresh pictures of people arriving on dinghies along Britain’s coast line. Many Tory MPs fear that if they don’t get a grip, you could see the far right make gains.
The president of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky visits a school which had been bombed by Russians
Russia and China
Abroad things are also grim. Putin’s evil invasion of Ukraine has brought a major war to Europe for the first time in decades.
Further East, an increasingly aggressive China is threatening to invade Taiwan – a confrontation that could spark a confrontation even more damaging to the world than Ukraine.
On Brexit, Liz is also facing a standoff with Europe. We are expecting her to tear up the Northern Ireland protocol by triggering Article 16 to get trade flowing freely between mainland GB and Northern Ireland again.
The question is – can she face down Brussels without sparking a damaging trade war?
There is also simmering anger at the length of time this leadership election has taken. “It has been very damaging”, says one top Tory. “People think we have been fiddling while Rome burns.”
Tory civil war:
But we must remember it wasn’t war, pestilence or policy that brought down Boris Johnson and Theresa May before him. It was the Conservative Party.
After a brutal Tory leadership election marred by astonishing blue on blue attacks between team Truss and Rishi Sunak’s squad, it will be up to the winner to build some serious bridges.
One Tory MP predicts that while Liz won’t get much of a honeymoon, her rebel backbenchers may keep their knives sheathed because they cannot afford to lose another leader before the next election.
“They may lob a few grenades from the backbenches, but I don’t think they will plunge the knife in,” he said.
The phoney war is over. The real battle has only just begun. Whoever wins the keys to No10, the scale of the challenges ahead are vast.
One Truss ally told me: “The fate of the next election will be decided within the first two weeks of Liz’s time in office. She will have to do something on the cost of living – and how that goes down could seal our fate for years to come.”