LONDON — If you think the Conservative Party of Canada has a habit of eating its leaders, it’s got nothing on its U.K. cousin. In the space of two months, the British Tories have cycled through two prime ministers — Boris Johnson and Liz Truss — and are now on their third, Rishi Sunak. Voters there were treated to the political equivalent of Coronation Street, packed with backstabbing (Sunak was one of the key players who brought Johnson down), public humiliation (Truss was forced out of office after a scant 44 days) and attempted revenge (until the 11th hour, Johnson was actually plotting a comeback).
During this circus, Truss’s mini-budget of debt-funded tax cuts dropped like a bomb in a country labouring under high inflation and high interest rates, spooking the stock market and sending the British pound to a record low of US$1.03. Inflation sits at over 10 per cent — a 40-year high — and soaring energy prices threaten thousands of businesses with closure. Meanwhile, the British public is grappling with soaring food prices, heating bills, rents and mortgage payments.
In his first remarks as prime minister, delivered in front of a throng of media assembled at 10 Downing Street, Sunak acknowledged Truss’s mistakes and said “I am determined to fix them.” Sunak pledged to “place economic stability and confidence at the heart of this government’s agenda.” He reminded voters that “You saw me during COVID doing everything I could to protect individuals and businesses with schemes like furlough … I will bring that same compassion to the challenges we face today,” before concluding that “I fully appreciate how hard things are.”
While it is true that the former devotee of the late prime minister Margaret Thatcher authorized massive borrowing to support workers and businesses during the pandemic, this also saddled the country with £400 billion of additional debt. (For context, that’s $622 billion Canadian. Here at home, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spent $290 billion on direct aid to individuals and businesses.)