As part of his latest U-turn, misunderstood genius Kwasi Kwarteng is now going to get the Office for Budget Responsibility to cost his debt plan and publish it this month instead of on 23 November. That’s good. I am going to get Jordan Pickford to save Leonardo Bonucci’s goal in the 67th minute of the Euro 2020 final. In Birmingham, it turns out the government’s massive mini-budget was actually a “before” photo, with ideas yet to reach their final form. Elsewhere in this larval cinematic universe, Liz Truss is still suggesting she isn’t going to raise benefits in line with inflation, which will be the next thing she folds on. There are currently radioactive nuclides with longer half-lives than her policies. We keep hearing Truss “needs a reset”, which sounds like the sort of solution Moscow would have proposed for the Chornobyl reactor shortly after the core had ruptured, destroyed the reactor building and caught fire in the open air.
Anyway: the Tory party conference. An event so cracked that Michael Gove can credibly turn up to it and act like it’s on drugs. Gove is doing more gigs than Ed Sheeran at the Birmingham gathering, but Truss’s cabinet is already nearing the “separate limos” stage of a monster band’s implosion. Be advised this is a conclave that a huge number of Conservative members of parliament found simply too distasteful to attend. Which certainly puts things into perspective. I’m trying to picture a Star Wars spinoff in which the rebel alliance was run by Gove and Grant Shapps, and it’s possible even Disney+ wouldn’t make it. Which, again, certainly puts things into perspective. Priti Patel is now spoken of as some kind of grandee. Which certainly takes perspective, and does something absolutely unmentionable with it.
British politics runs on about 10 knackered cliches, which is why we had to refer to the chancellor’s surprise abolition of the 45% tax rate in his maxi-budget as a “rabbit”. Ten days ago, the magician pulled this rabbit out of the hat and – as you may dimly be aware – has since detected some kind of adverse reaction to the trick. What you’re watching this week is the rabbit being brutally killed and dismembered in front of the horrified children, while the magician and his assistant (the prime minister) scream: “Stop crying, kiddies! JUST ENJOY THE SHOW!”
As for why it took so long for them to move to bunnycide, accounts vary. According to the chancellor: “We were absorbing the reaction.” Righto. I hope that Kwarteng and Truss are very absorbent – at this rate they’re going to need both thirst pockets and a dry-weave topsheet. Speaking of characters who practise extreme emotional suppression, Kwarteng’s turnaround recalled Leonard Nimoy’s first autobiography, which was called I Am Not Spock. That title caused a Star Trek fan furore so intense that it informed the title of Nimoy’s second autobiography: I Am Spock. Hey – he got it, he listened.
But did Kwarteng? His supposedly make-or-break speech screamed: “I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to you.” Unfortunately, the chancellor is no Jack Nicholson. And yet, he did seem to be unwisely attempting some form of acting, walking deliberately slowly to the lectern to set up his opening line: “What a day.” Kwarteng moves like an MDF kitchen dresser, but the delivery is pure woodchip.
Optics-wise, it probably wasn’t great that beneath the conference hall lights; the chancellor was sweating like … well, he was sweating like a free marketeer whose clever plan has just wiped hundreds of billions off the free markets. This type of sweating is probably the only thing that could make a glassblower’s arse/a paedophile in a prison riot/a Marine in a maths test break off from their own benchmark perspiration to observe: “Man alive, that guy looks insanely sweaty.” Still, at last we have an entity more annoying than the first person ever to think they’ve had a baby: it’s the chancellor who thinks he’s the first person ever to try to grow the economy.
By now, you may be judging that a period of silence would be most welcome from the many, many commentators who were only last month droning on about how you underestimate Liz Truss at your peril. How do you like this peril, guys?! Don’t underestimate Liz Truss, we kept hearing. And yet, why not? It saves time. I underestimated her, and you know what: I still overestimated her.
Any amusements this week? Watching Treasury chief secretary Chris Philp becoming aware in real time that he is being lined up for the human sacrifice role. But we’ve already heard way more than enough from emerging shithouse Jake Berry, the Conservative chairman who on Sunday expanded on the government’s brilliant plan for struggling people to simply make the choice to stop struggling.
As Berry put it: “People know that when their bills arrive, they can either cut their consumption, or they can get a higher salary, higher wages, go out there and get that new job. That’s the approach this government is taking.” Oh I see. If that’s the case, mate, could you – you personally – simply be better at your job? Could you either cut your own mic, for ever, or make the choice of getting up one morning and landing somewhere in the same postcode as adequate? That’s the approach this country is taking, Jake.
Regrettably, the party is still at denial stage, so other delusions are available. Truss is the UK’s fourth prime minister in not much over six years, yet many Conservatives are reacting to the latest horror show by suggesting they’re on some kind of accumulator. Take Peter Cruddas, a Boris Johnson crony who went through a cash-for-access scandal but was still ennobled by the previous PM as part of the latter’s post-democratic commitment to making the upper chamber literally 10% useless-bastards-he’d-personally-picked (with even more to come from him in some absolutely fetid lavender list yet to get its airing).
Anyway: here’s his lordship yesterday: “I believe the best option for Truss is to work with Boris,” hallucinated Cruddas, “to allow Boris to return as the leader with Truss getting a key job in the new cabinet. There could be a runoff between Rishi and Boris Johnson for the members to decide. There would only be one winner, Boris.”
Sorry, what? We’ve all been there, haven’t we, in a pub while our most chaotic friend unleashes another monologue about the latest toxic guy she’s into, thinking that if we have one more drink we’re finally going to be the one to say it: “For the love of God, for your sanity and for all of ours, HAD YOU THOUGHT ABOUT JUST BEING SINGLE FOR A WHILE?!” This really is starting to look much the same. I don’t mean to state the fist-gnawingly obvious here, but … has the Conservative party thought about just being single for a while?
Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist
What Just Happened?! by Marina Hyde is published by Guardian Faber (£18.99). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply