Liz Truss spent her childhood accompanying her father, a leftist University professor, on marches against the Thatcher government. It might be reductionist to suspect that one woman’s daddy issues have turned Britain into Europe’s leading political basket case,
but we do have to wonder where this mindless devotion to Thatcherite dogma came from, and why, given the freely available data on the effects of neoliberalism on the global economy over the past forty-something years, Truss has remained so blindly devoted to this pernicious ideology.
Margaret Thatcher pipped Ronald Reagan to the post by a year when she took power in Britain in 1979 and set about applying the theories of Friedmann, Hayek, Buchanan et al. in instituting a radical reshaping of western economies, piloted in Chile by the Pinochet administration. Thomas Piketty’s extensive research has since shown, incontrovertibly, that the subsequent tearing up of the Keynesian consensus, replaced by a system which facilitated the upward flow of wealth from Labour to owners through attacks on unions, the privatization of the commons, and a financialized economic locus that led to the 2008 debacle, was a con-trick.
Neoliberalism has been masking its true nature all along with spurious articles of faith: the invisible hand of the market (a notion originating in Smith’s Wealth of Nations, taken out of context); “greed is good” social Darwinism; trickle-down economics, and other fairy tales that made sense to a lot of people in the 80’s and 90’s, who deep down, rooted for Gordon Gecko in Wall Street. It chimed with the times.
There is, therefore, a certain elliptical, tragic poetry in the British Parliament being the stage upon which the denouement of this disastrous experiment is currently playing out. When Liz Truss, Britain’s latest in a series of ghoulish Tory Prime Ministers, and an especially mindless disciple of the cult of Thatcher, announced that she was going to borrow £45B to give to the rich in the form of tax cuts, sterling fell off a cliff and the Bank of England had to step in to backstop bonds before the economy went into free-fall.
There quickly followed a very unusual intervention from the IMF (hardly a hotbed of Marxist thinkers), when they said, and I’m paraphrasing, “what the fuck are you doing?!” If you are trying to impose neoliberal policies in a very pure form, the game is up the instant the markets turn against you – markets don’t care about ideology, they are only interested in returns. When they know someone’s batshit ideological delusion is going to wreck the economy, they react. That was the message: any more tax cuts for the rich at this juncture will be damaging. Only the most dangerous of zealots are still hawking the notion that tax cuts for the rich lead to economic growth. It’s not just your local Trotskyite reading group who thinks this, it’s the IMF.
What’s frightening is that Truss didn’t seem to get it. Every time she opened her mouth, doubling down on her unreconstructed Thatcherite commitment to her proposals, she wiped points off the pound. The more she did it, the more resembled the delusional Nazi from The Producers, still fighting the war, pining for the Führer. The Conservative Party, known for their ruthlessly keen sense of self preservation, were faced with the very real possibility of wresting the flight stick from the monkey flying the plane. Truss, who crafted the notorious, cataclysm-sparking mini-budget behind closed doors with Kwasi Kwarteng, had been forced to sack him, making his tenure a mere eight days off the record for the shortest serving chancellor in history.
Now the party has forced her to fall on her sword, smashing the record for the shortest serving Prime Minister in history – a paltry forty-four days in office. Kwarteng’s replacement, Jeremy Hunt, whose name has become rhyming slang in Britain, spent the best part of a decade running the NHS into the ground as Secretary for Health. Presumably he’d been made chancellor to function as Truss’ brain. Hunt, a blow-dried technocrat in a Saville Row suit, is what Thatcher would have called “a wet” - a centrist mediocrity – may have been maneuvered into place to keep the plane from crashing into the mountain.
But the Tories are still in the ludicrous position of having to elect their fourth leader in less than six years. This poses the members with a real dilemma. Bookie’s favorite, Rishi Sunak, is the wrong color for most Tory members, which was probably a contributing factor in ensuring that Truss defeated him in the last leadership election. These are the same people who enthusiastically cheered Truss’ commitment to destroying all life on earth in that now notorious video: little Englanders who long for the days of Empire, who get a kick out of the idea off Britain acting tough on the world stage and have an old-fashioned view of those descended from the former colonies. The same goes for the other outside contenders of color: Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman. Crypto-fascists they may be, but much too black and brown, respectively, for the Tory base. Ben Wallace, a “safe pair of hands” candidate, has the advantage of being white, and could be a dark horse. Then there’s the very real specter of the return of Johnson. Conspiracy theories abound in some quarters that Truss was voted in by Johnson loyalists to precipitate his return.
The Tories are in a total tailspin of acrimonious infighting and exhaustion. They are utterly bereft of both talent and ideas. It looks like the end of the line for the present version of the Conservatives, who will leave behind a nation of food banks and child poverty as a result of their reign of swingeing, cruel austerity. Even the dogs in the street (to borrow a phrase from Irish politics) know that come the next election – and there is a growing chorus baying for an immediate general election – the Conservatives are looking at a landslide defeat of 1997 proportions or worse.
The media are of course sanguine about all of this. The establishment, and the media outlets whose interests they serve, already have their security-state affiliated pawn in place in the form of Keir Starmer. Having been instrumental (The Guardian included) in destroying the Corbyn project and electing Johnson, they have been cheerleaders of Corbyn’s successor, as he purges the Labour Party of the left on spurious charges of antisemitism (disproportionately targeting pro-Palestinian Jewish members), and goes about restructuring the party apparatus to limit democracy within it, to try to ensure that a grass-roots popular movement cannot find its expression through a figure like Corbyn again. He’s made all the right signals to the establishment that he is a figure in the mold of Blair and Obama. He’s a neoliberal technocrat, and whatever war Washington wants to get involved in, he’ll be a loyal lap dog.
Removing the whip from Corbyn for so-called antisemitism and his embrace of the conflation of anti-Zionism with Jew hatred serves as a signifier for this. It’s a message to the powers that be: I’m your man. Capital would rather have someone who knows how to buy off revolution as its administer than a moron. So the big neoliberal juggernaut will keep trundling along, except the ideology’s coming iteration will be more careful about flaunting its underpinning fallacies so brazenly, in an attempt to make the public believe that their interests are the same as their billionaire taskmasters. Gone will be the days that publicly expressing the idea that an atomized population acting in their own self-interest leads to virtuous outcomes makes you sound clever. “Greed is good” won’t land anymore.
What is truly historically significant about the ignominious fall of Truss isn’t the fact that she has been by far the most catastrophic failure of a Prime Minister in British history. Truss is just the least intelligent to have held office; a patsy of the neoliberal project left holding the ball during the shifting of support away from a failed experiment, manifest in the swan song of the wrong woman in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong ideas, stupid enough to keep selling this nonsense to the public. Trickle-down might have made sense during the Thatcher years, but no one’s buying the lies anymore because they can’t afford them. The full focus of failure should be pulled away from this imbecile and placed sharply on the ideology for which she stands, which lay in tatters after 2008, and pending a reset, has become a liability to the very institutions that embody it. Those who have been paying attention knew that Neoliberalism died fifteen years ago. Poor Liz Truss never got the memo. The markets had to send it to her. And now what she represents is the toxicity of an ideology from which even the Tories are starting to slowly back away.