OPINION - Liz Truss vs Keir Starmer at PMQs: the return of ideology

 (Ben Turner)
(Ben Turner)

Dividing lines are back. Amid the usual jokes, grandstanding and planted questions, Liz Truss and Keir Starmer engaged in a ding-dong tussle over economic policy. Namely: who should pay for the things we want?

Both the Tories and Labour agree that urgent action is necessary to cap the cost of energy for households and businesses. But that’s where the consensus ends.

Truss wants what she terms a low-tax economy. Her long-held belief is that low taxes lead to higher growth. It is why she intends to reverse the planned rise in corporation tax and why she has ruled out any extension of the windfall tax to fund her package on energy bills. Starmer, on the other hand, wants those oil and gas firms enjoying massive and unexpected profits to foot the bill.

Truss, the fourth Conservative prime minister in six years, is different to what has come before. David Cameron and George Osborne ran a fairly economically right-wing government – it imposed austerity to reduce the deficit and abolished the 50p tax rate. But they didn’t like to say so, and somewhat masked it by radiating liberal and urban vibes (see marriage equality).

Boris Johnson meanwhile represented a genuine attempt to steal some of Labour’s clothes, with an emphasis on (relatively) higher spending and action on climate change. While May’s premiership was consumed by Brexit.

I don’t want to go overboard on Truss’s ideology. She campaigned against energy bill ‘handouts’, said she was prepared to pull the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights and that she was considering triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol within days of entering No 10. She has U-turned on all three and it’s only her second day.

But Truss says what she believes more often than most. Her interview with Laura Kuenssberg last Sunday was instructive. When it was pointed out to her with a great big chart from the IFS that her national insurance changes would most benefit the well-off, instead of equivocating like Cameron or blustering like Johnson, Truss unselfconsciously defended the proposal as “fair”.

Whether you agree with her or not, this is uncommon in a senior politician. It will take a general election to determine whether the country will reward her for such candour.

Elsewhere in the paper, everyone is going wild for our new cigar-smoking health secretary, Thérèse Coffey. The Ken Clarke erasure is real. Though many others have pointed out her voting record on restricting abortion.

In the comment pages, Defence Editor Robert Fox says now is the time to give Ukraine lethal weaponry we’ve so far held back. While Home Affairs Editor Martin Bentham previews the new Met Commissioner’s first day from hell.

And finally, what’s the next move when you’ve got more YouTube subscribers than Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift combined? Open a chicken shop in BOXPARK Croydon, obviously. The Sidemen tell Reveller Editor David Ellis about their plans for world domination.

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