PMQs analysis: As Liz Truss tried to avoid mini-budget elephant in room, did she walk into bear trap?

Prime Minister Liz Truss clashed with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in the Commons  (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Liz Truss clashed with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in the Commons (PA Wire)

AT 6ft 5in, Kwasi Kwarteng has a long shadow.

In fact, so long that it stretched across the Atlantic and into Parliament for Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

The Chancellor was in Washington for a meeting of the International Monetary Fund but the repercussions of his mini-budget were still ricocheting at high velocity off the walls of the Commons Chamber.

To be fair to Liz Truss, she got off to a good start with her “I can” attitude to Government.

She was pressed by Labour veteran Graham Stringer to commit to ending no-fault evictions, with expectations that she wouldn’t given the tone of the question.

“I can,” she responded succinctly, to cheers on her backbenches.

But then…she got trampled by the elephant in the room, or probably the herd of elephants in the room, Mr Kwarteng’s mini-budget – or more precisely the fact that ministers are still refusing to accept it is partly to blame for the pound nosediving (before recovering), market jitters, a pension funds crisis which forced the Bank of England to intervene, and mortgage rates rising.

And as she was seemingly desperately seeking to avoid the elephants, Ms Truss may have stepped right into a bear trap laid by Sir Keir Starmer.

She was ducking and diving as the Labour leader sought to grill her on the mayhem caused by the “Kamikwasi” mini-budget.

The Prime Minister hit back, stressing the Government’s £60 billion support package to keep down energy bills for households and businesses, challenging Sir Keir to back the commitment to the scheme lasting two years.

But then the Labour leader raised with MPs that during her Tory leadership campaign Ms Truss had pledged “I’m not planning public spending reductions”.

Asked if she is going to stick to that, she replied: “Absolutely.

”We are spending almost £1 trillion of public spending. We were spending £700 billion back in 2010.

“What we will make sure is that over the medium term the debt is falling. But we will do that not by cutting public spending but by making sure we spend public money well.”

Despite the public commitment by Ms Truss, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman later warned “difficult decisions” would need to be made on spending when asked whether the cost of the energy package would be used as cover for departmental cuts.

“We are clear there will need to be difficult decisions to be taken given some of the global challenges we’re facing,” he said.

“I appreciate the interest but I’m not going to get drawn into what those might look like.”

In one of his stronger performances, which may worry Tory MPs, Sir Keir called for a reversal of the “Kamikwazi budget”, which relies on borrowing to fund £43 billion of tax cuts intended to stimulate economic growth.

He told the PM: “Does she think the public will ever forgive the Conservative Party if they keep on defending this madness and go ahead with their Kamikwazi budget?”

Ms Truss, who was doing well to stand her ground amid the elephant stampede, replied: “The way that we will get our country growing is through more jobs, more growth, more opportunities, not through higher taxes, higher spending, and his (Sir Keir’s) friends in the union stopping hard-working people get to work.”

Given the self-inflicted turmoil caused by the mini-budget, the Government is firmly on the back foot.

But despite calling for it to be reversed, Labour supports key elements in it, including lopping 1p off the basic rate of income tax and reversing the National Insurance hike.

And as Sir Keir gets closer to No10, his spending plans will come under growing scrutiny, including as they appear to depend on some of the very extra borrowing which Labour is so strongly criticising.

The spotlight on Wednesday, though, was still on the Government, especially with the Tories trailing Labour by about 25 points in the polls as people see their mortgage payments rise, energy bills also go up, and inflation close to ten per cent bites.

“The last thing we need is a General Election,” Ms Truss told the Commons.

Many voters may disagree.

Published by anthonyhayble

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