Liz Truss's 'New Conservative' government echoes New Labour's view of taxation – John McLellan
As the elaborate preparations were being made for yesterday’s funeral of Her Majesty the Queen, we too were getting ready to say our goodbyes.
One was relatively straightforward, packing our son off to university knowing it wouldn’t be long before we saw him again. Two days, in fact, because last Wednesday our family gathered to say farewell to a much-loved grandmother and great-grandmother, my mother-in-law, who also lived to a ripe old age, 88, and retained a positive, good-humoured, and contented outlook until the end.
It was a simple service in Durham Crematorium, expertly organised by the local undertaker who knew the family well, with the most beautiful flower arrangement on her coffin, literally fit for a queen.
Her closest family were with her when she died in the comfort of her own home, and all her friends and family packed the service, exactly as she would have wanted it. Their lives were very different, but not so dissimilar in their passing.
Queen Elizabeth got the send-off she not only wanted but had arranged in advance, the details for which had been in the making for years, my tiny contribution to help organise the rota of photographers and reporters covering the Scottish part of the proceedings.
Although it might have felt like it for the past fortnight, the world hasn’t stopped for the official period of mourning, and thousands of families have had to cope with their own grief in the same way as the Royal Family.
Whether that’s a comfort or not depends on outlook, but there has been a constant reminder on television every night that another family is going through the same experience of loss, with nowhere to hide from the glare of publicity and even a uniform’s embroidery, or lack of it, subject to scrutiny and interpretation.
That life and business must go on is something most of us understand; the bills still need to be paid, and commitments fulfilled, and having domestic duties to carry out helps us all to navigate difficult times. As we now know, the Queen told New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern about combining motherhood and leadership, you just have to “get on with it”.
Nationally, it is the sense of firm direction, of things to do and being done, which helps maintain stability, and even if the title is new to us, the seamless transition from Elizabeth II to the familiar figure of Charles III has been the clearest symbol of continuity.
A time of change, yes, but not, as the miserable New York Times put it, “disorienting”. Quite the opposite; compare the last fortnight with the chaotic aftermath of Donald Trump’s defeat in 2020 and the subsequent scenes on Washington’s Capitol Hill. Never again should any American commentator look down their noses on Britain’s centuries-old traditions as quaint anachronisms.
There has, of course, been a change of government, if not of governing party, and although plans have been on hold because of the suspension of politics during official mourning, on the day of the Queen’s death new Prime Minister Liz Truss laid out a clear, practical display of purpose and direction, perhaps the clearest since the incoming Labour administration in 1997, but certainly not since Margaret Thatcher moved into Downing Street in 1979.
All the signs are that the manner of the Queen’s passing has if anything strengthened and renewed the monarchy, with the grounded and empathetic Prince William now heir to the throne, and while it is too early to tell, the firmness with which Liz Truss grasped the political thorns of the cost-of-living crisis after only two days in office shows this is a government which understands the need not just for its own renewal but for the rejuvenation and reprioritisation of the British economy.
Whether Rishi Sunak’s alarm bells throughout the Conservative leadership contest about inflation fuelled by a massive increase in government borrowing ring true won’t be known for months, maybe even a year ─ although the fall in the value of the pound suggests his concerns about the impact of a major injection of unfunded government spending into the economy are not isolated ─ but there is no doubting Ms Truss’s determination to prove those fears wrong.
Although we are now not supposed to know what King Charles thinks about his government’s priorities, it’s a fair guess that Charles, the Prince of Wales, might not be enthusiastic about an undisguised focus on growth which includes fracking, nuclear power, and the relaxation of planning laws. But someone who used £20m in annual profit from his £1bn Duchy of Cornwall estate to fund charitable causes should understand the benefit of wealth generation.
Fracking apart, the Truss growth agenda has already raised eyebrows, with the plans to scrap European caps on banking bonuses ─ perhaps the subject of a deliberate leak ─ negative stories about the minimal impact of the National Insurance cut on the poorest households, and the advantage of the power bill cap for people in large, energy-inefficient homes all being characterised as benefits aimed at the better-off.
But in moving away from tax as a means to redistribute wealth, the New Conservative focus is on growth from which everyone can benefit, perhaps not that far off from Peter Mandelson’s view in 1998 that New Labour was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich as long as they pay their taxes”.
It is not just because of the Queen’s death that energy costs have fallen down the news agenda, but because a clear government plan has, for now anyway, taken the sting from the worst fears, and if the new government is successful in boosting disposable incomes significantly at all levels with an aggressive pro-growth agenda, then equality of opportunity should be more important than income inequality.
Only three people currently alive will receive a farewell on yesterday’s scale but, like my mother-in-law, we should all be able to achieve the same level of contentment.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.