Only two days after kissing hands with her late Majesty, Liz Truss found herself facing an unprecedented period in our history during which politics largely disappeared from our national consciousness.
After the most moving funeral on Monday watched by literally half the world life returns to what ought to be normal but quite evidently isn’t.
No prime minister has had to face what this one now faces. A massive rise in inflation, interest rates at levels not seen for decades and events in Ukraine imposing a rise in fuel costs that without firm government action would have left millions of families and small businesses in truly dire straits.
There are those who worried about her sanctioning more than £100bn in emergency support for the least well-off, but it’s hard to see what choice she had. Talking Treasury orthodoxy would not have solved the problem. It would have made it worse.
She and her chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng have long shared a frustration at how cynical, negative and frustrating the Treasury can be and they intend to do something about it.
This is great news. As a spending minister myself in the former Department for Transport, I witnessed this negativity first hand. It is why it took half a century to deliver the Elizabeth line, why we don’t plan a replacement for the Thames Barrier until 2070 and why the whole notion of levelling up, of actually investing in the north, has been a slogan but no more for almost a decade. The Treasury’s stance is invariably ‘the answer’s no – now what’s the question?’
When Liam Byrne, then the outgoing chief secretary to the Treasury, left a note for his coalition successor that said “Dear Chief Secretary, I’m afraid there’s no money. Kind regards and good luck”, he wasn’t being angry or cynical. It was the standard line in every Treasury meeting and a standing joke which all spending ministers knew only too well.
The sacking of top Treasury mandarin Tom Scholar has sent shock waves through Whitehall. Mandarins everywhere are outraged. And when the chancellor demanded twice-weekly meetings with the hapless governor of the bank, Andrew Bailey, this was the clearest possible signal that the prime minister and her chancellor intended to shake up the way we do business in this country quite radically. It has been long overdue.
Most people in the property industry will not have heard of Simon Clarke until he was appointed to the top job at DLUHC in the wake of Michael Gove’s particularly vicious sacking by Boris.
In fact by all accounts, he is extremely bright and able. Being a Middlesbrough South MP he will be keen to see progress in retaining those Red Wall seats the Tories need to win the next election. He is said to have liked the Jenrick proposals for radical planning reform, which were subsequently shot down in flames after Tory grassroots protests.
But sadly, given both candidates in the leadership hustings talked about protecting the green belt and offered solace to traditional Tories who believe the current system leaves too much in the hands of the Planning Inspectorate, Clarke may find he has little or no room for manoeuvre.
When Labour was in office, Tories condemned what they called “Stalinist top-down dictatorship”, but it’s notable they have lived with local plans and the NPPF ever since they came to power in 2010. In reality, it is the only way to deliver the housing we patently need in the places where it is currently unaffordable.
It will be interesting to see how this develops in the next few months but I’m not optimistic.
Even Gove of blessed memory
had hinted this would be the path Truss would favour. The Tories have their eyes firmly set on 2024 and if a naked appeal to Nimby keeps their traditional vote happy, then so be it.
Steve Norris is chairman of Soho Estates and Future-Built