Life comes at you fast. Though it feels like 10 years ago it’s only six weeks since Liz Truss was asked during the British leadership hustings who she would prefer to be stuck in a lift with — Nicola Sturgeon or Keir Starmer?
Sturgeon, she decided, because Truss (the fabled peace whisperer) thought she might persuade the Scottish First Minister “to stop being a separatist by the time we got to the ground floor”. As for Starmer, well, “frankly, the idea of being stuck in a lift with Keir Starmer strikes me as extremely boring”.
What was striking was the immense silliness of that reply. Gratuitously offensive and politically counterproductive from a would-be stateswoman with a three-wheeled economy, a nonsensical Brexit, a slew of angry unions and a European war on her doorstep. But what of it when red meat had to be thrown to her snoozing Tory audience ... she was a woman with a plan
Watching her on the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg on Sunday, as she threw shade on her Chancellor, it was intriguing to imagine her inner workings. Maybe she should have been just a tad less exciting, she might have been thinking, as the screen went dark repeatedly and the start of the interview was lost in the ether. But she was still all in, apparently, still channelling her notion of Thatcher.
Laura Kuenssberg: “Are you absolutely committed to abolishing the 45 per cent tax rate for the wealthiest people in the country?”
Truss (preceded by signature pause): “Yes”.
Despite the markets turmoil and the doubling of mortgage rates, her political lieutenants were ordered to shrug it off as a storm in a teacup. The tax cut would have cost a piffling £2 billion, a drop in a Treasury bucket, they insisted. Yet the Chancellor’s champagne socialising on the night of his mini-budget told a different story. He sipped champagne with hedge-funders and speculators, the lads who made fortunes by cashing in on market meltdown.
The great irony is that it was the markets’ hissy fit that forced the not-Odeys to take a second look at this uncosted ‘fiscal event’
Never too far away from such august company was Crispin Odey, hedge fund manager, Tory donor and Brexit ultra — with donations of at least £1.7 million to the Conservative Party and the pro-Brexit campaign in the past decade — who humbly conceded that his position against the pound had “been helpful” and his bets against Britain’s government bonds were “the gifts that keep on giving”.
He defended his bets against the pound by arguing that the rout following Kwarteng’s tax cuts was triggered by Remainers in the City who “hate” the Government. On the other hand, he is “patriotic” and finds it annoying when the press try to suggest that because his “greatest returns come from moments when the markets are having to adjust to something they haven’t considered”, this poor hedgefunder is seen as “hating” his country and “wanting it to fail.” It’s just a lovely coincidence and the gifts that keep on giving just drop from a magic money tree.
On the morning after the 2016 Brexit referendum, it was Odey — the Brexit ultra — who happily told the BBC that he had made £220 million speculating that the markets would fall, or as he put it: “ ‘Il mattino ha l’oro in bocca’ — the morning has gold in its mouth.”
It certainly beats the odds on the Eurobillions but the assiduous networking may have something to do with it. It’s worth noting for example that before heading for Westminster, Kwasi Kwarteng worked for Odey. “There’s a mad idea that one’s behind every twist and turn. All I can do is catch the wind now and again”, said Odey who is reported to have cooked an “informal dinner” for Kwarteng during the Tory leadership contest back in July. They never discussed anything but political gossip, Odey told The Times.
Some financial analysts insist that we simply don’t understand these masterminds; that shorting the pound or the country was never what these Brexit lads were about. It was the slashing of red tape and regulatory standards that got them all excited, plus the “business-friendly” tax cuts and tax breaks. How fortuitous that they’ve landed Kwarteng and Truss. Her promise to “really unshackle” Britain’s financial services industry got off to a champagne start when one of her government’s first announcements was to scrap a cap on bankers’ bonuses. She also wants to reduce the amount of capital insurers must hold to protect against insolvency. Kwarteng has promised a “Big Bang 2.0″ for the City. Trickle-down economics innit.
Sure, the 45 per cent U-turn was a touch embarrassing. Those of a conspiratorial bent, the kind with a mad notion that Odey and ilk are behind every twist and turn, might wonder if the predictably provocative 45 per cent headline was designed to take the people’s eye off some more eye-popping proposals in the Truss/Kwarteng cauldron.
The great irony is that it was the markets’ hissy fit that forced the not-Odeys to take a second look at this uncosted “fiscal event”. Either way, as always, the Odeys win. The difference is that the people have begun to notice.
In the meantime, Keir Starmer delivered the speech of his life. UK Labour is soaring in the polls. Something has shifted.
Give it up for the boring ones.