In another reversal, it has been widely reported that Kwasi Kwarteng will speed up plans for a new fiscal statement, expected to be focused on spending and deregulation. This is the latest in a stream of U-turns by a government that claims it is listening to the people, but what do these U-turns really tell us about the government?
YouGov regularly tracks what the public thinks about those in power changing their plans, asking respondents to choose between the idea that government U-turns are ‘normally a bad sign – showing they are incompetent, weak, or have not thought their policies through properly in advance’ or ‘a good sign – showing they are willing to listen and change their minds when people complain or situations change.’
Not too long ago, they found that while 30% think U-turns are a negative thing, some 42% look upon U-turns as a healthy sign of a government that listens. Older voters are particularly sympathetic: 58% of those over 65 say U-turns are on the whole a sign that politicians are responsive rather than reckless.
This might make sense in theory but the jury is still on whether this current Conservative government has the sympathy of the British public.
Let’s recap on current events
The U.K. government on Monday reversed a plan to scrap the top rate of income tax, after a public backlash and major market turbulence.
The new government had announced a swathe of tax cuts just weeks into its tenure, but they were poorly received by financial markets. Taking the top rate of tax paid on incomes over £150,000 ($166,770) from 45% to 40% was seen as particularly politically toxic as we deal with a cost-of-living crisis.
In the days following their announcement, the pound dropped to an all-time low, mortgage deals were pulled from the market and U.K. government bonds began to sell off at a historic rate, causing the Bank of England to begin a temporary purchase program to calm volatility.
With the Conservative Party plunging in opinion polls since its so-called mini-budget, which was also criticised by the International Monetary Fund in a rare move, several of its own politicians have spoken out against the proposals.
Grant Shapps, former transport secretary, said in a BBC interview Monday morning that the reversal in the top rate tax cut was a “sensible response” because tax cuts for “the people who need them least … jarred for people in a way which was unsustainable.”
It represents a major and humiliating U-turn for new Prime Minister Liz Truss, who was insisting as recently as Sunday she was “absolutely committed” to the cut.
She also revealed that the plan was instigated by Kwarteng and had not been announced to her whole Cabinet. It would have delivered an average £10,000 annual benefit to the country’s 660,000 top earners, the Treasury said.
Truss said in a tweet Monday, “The abolition of the 45pc rate had become a distraction from our mission to get Britain moving.”
“Our focus now is on building a high growth economy that funds world-class public services, boosts wages, and creates opportunities across the country.”
Do people feel sorry for the Conservative party?
It’s hard to make the case that the set of U-turns we have seen from the Conservative government shows a party in touch with the people.
During the conservative leadership race, the prospective leaders spoke to a very narrow section of the British public and essentially told them what they wanted to hear. The ideological space between the leaders was minute and the media largely exaggerated it. What was red meat for the Conservative base scared the majority of the British public.
Tax cuts for the rich in a time of global uncertainty and a cost of the living crisis were never popular. This is why many were shocked and puzzled when the new chancellor announced his policies. The chancellor’s tax cuts, don’t show a cogent economic plan, they appear to be more red meat to a base already sycophantically in love with its new leader. The U-turns show us there is very little ideological underpinning behind this new government. They seem to be working out just what they can get away with. How much they can push the envelope before everyone else pushes, back forcing them to change.
This has been a terrible start for Liz Truss as PM and the most frequently used word to describe her in public seems to be incompetent.