As Truss Falls, Does BoJo Loom?

Things are moving so fast in British politics that by the time this post goes to (digital) press, it's possible the U.K. will have gone through several more prime ministers, and Meghan Markle will be crowned queen.

Here are the basics: Newly minted prime minister Liz Truss has resigned after just 44 days on the job, the shortest ever term for a prime minister. She came into office hard on the heels of Boris Johnson, who resigned after he was caught lying about violating his own government's Covid restrictions on several occasions.

Determined not to be merely a caretaker P.M., Truss immediately initiated a bold -- some would say "foolhardy" -- plan to transform the British economy by slashing taxes across the board, with the biggest cuts for businesses and the wealthy, while also increasing spending. Much of that spending would go towards an energy "price freeze," which would cap the amount that Brits would pay for heat and electricity going into what is looking to be a brutal winter for heating and electricity rates. The bill for such a plan was projected to run into the hundreds of billions of pounds, but her hope was that it would it would keep the heat off her government while her Thatcher-on-steroids tax plan supercharged the economy and brought about elephantine growth.

The Iron Lady she wasn't.

Now here's what actually happened. The markets were disturbed by these sudden movements, and by the massive amount of new debt the government would have to take on to make this all work, especially at a time of significant and rising interest rates. Sterling tanked and bond markets went crazy.

Truss vowed that she would not change course. Then she started changing course, with new back-tracking announcements becoming an almost daily occurrence. She sacked Kwasi Kwarteng, her right-hand man and Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a desperate attempt to hang onto power, and appointed the establishmentarian, globalist, anti-Brexiter Jeremy Hunt to take his place. Hunt promptly got to work dismantling the rest of Truss's program.

Eventually the pressure got to be too great. After a tense vote on a Labour bill whose object was to prevent the government from reintroducing fracking, which the Tories won, despite several notable defections, the humiliated Truss was compelled to offer her resignation.

What is so strange about all of this is that it is easy to imagine a counterfactual scenario where Truss turned out a success. She ran for leadership as a continuity candidate: Boris, but without the erraticism, dishonesty, and drama. That was a pretty attractive proposition! Had she actually governed that way, pushing back on some of the negatives of the Johnson government while generally trying to steady the tiller, she might have had a long and illustrious career.

Kicking Boris' environmentalism to the curb would have been a good start -- Britain has a lot of natural gas, but environmentalists have been lying to the people about natural resource extraction for years. The politics site Guido Fawkes, for instance, recently wrote about a speech in the House of Commons by former Labour leader Ed Miliband about the possibility that fracking would bring with it earthquakes registering a 4.6 on the Richter scale, which could crack the plaster in houses and cause notable damage. This is ridiculous -- though fracking has been known to trigger tremors, they're rarely strong enough to be felt, only to be detected by powerful instruments. The strongest one ever, according to Fawkes, was a 2.9, which is comparable to "a pound of sugar being dropped on a kitchen floor."

Ask not for whom the bell tolls.

Boris famously leaned into this misinformation, including in his farewell speech as prime minister. A successful Truss could have checked it, while noting the absolute necessity of developing domestic energy sources in light of growing scarcity. Doing so wouldn't have required abandoning all Boris' plans. It could even have reinforced some of them. There's an obvious match between his "leveling-up" project, meant to improve those forgotten, working class regions of England's north (where he scored a stunning success in the last election), and the jobs which an expanded resource sector could provide.

At the Telegraph, Lord Frost even argues that Truss could have gone ahead with her own program, had she actually laid the groundwork for it over time:

Truss tried to deliver worthwhile reforms and set the country onto a much-needed new direction. I supported this policy direction and still do. But it was rushed and bungled. The markets were spooked. The mistakes were opportunistically seized on by her opponents to undermine her leadership, to blame Brexit, and to stop the party getting out of the social democratic tractor beam of the past few years.

In any event, yet another party leadership race will be held as soon as possible to determine who will govern, with Rishi Sunak -- the wealthy establishmentarian who came in second to Truss last time -- seen as the front runner. Unless, that is, Boris Johnson decides to throw his hat into the ring, as voices both inside and outside parliament have started calling for him to do.

Unfortunately for the Conservative Party, polling seems to indicate that the British people are getting sick of this ongoing Tory psychodrama. The Labour Party has started calling for an early election, which they are in a good position to win. And losing might ultimately be good for the Tories -- having squandered a huge mandate with Johnson, they could do with a good long stretch in opposition to figure out what they actually stand for.

Still, as Labour's policies; fiscal, social, and environmental; are so much worse than those of the Tories, the country as a whole would probably be much better off if they would just get their act together. Don't hold your breath.

Trudeau Good to Go Until 2025

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh, leader of the far-left New Democratic Party, have announced a deal which would give Trudeau's Liberal minority government an operational majority in parliament until 2025. The deal -- which they're calling a "confidence and supply agreement" -- would see the N.D.P. support the government on every potential confidence vote for the next four years.

In exchange, Trudeau's Liberals would embrace policy priorities championed by the N.D.P. in last fall's election, including free dental care for Canadians who make less than $90,000 per year; a "pharmacare" program, which would develop a list of "essential medicines" to be paid for with tax dollars; lengthening the period of time for voting in federal elections to three days; and anti-fossil fuel initiatives, the details of which are not yet clear.

The Liberals under Trudeau have gone into the past two Canadian elections expecting an outright majority, and both times they were disappointed. In each instance, they won only a minority of seats while also losing the popular vote to the Conservatives, a fact that has no technical significance, but which illustrates Trudeau's tenuous grasp on power, especially in the Westminster system where a government can theoretically fall at any time. This deal is meant to combat that that instability, putting the Liberals comfortably over the majority threshold on the most important questions and ensuring that the Conservatives won't be able to effect an early election.

On one level, this merely formalizes the arrangement that has existed for years—under Singh, the N.D.P. has never seriously challenged Trudeau and has always bailed him out when necessary. The party's support for Trudeau's invocation of the Emergencies Act is a good example; N.D.P. members whispered to the press that they were uncomfortable about it, but in the end Singh pledged his party's support, with the unenforceable proviso that the government's new powers never be used against “Indigenous land defenders, climate change activists, workers fighting for fairness.”

Singh's ultimate justification for approving the measure was that "we do not want to trigger an election." Empowering the Liberals has been his modus operandi for some time. In the words of Andrew Coyne, "the N.D.P. have forsworn any serious effort to hold the government to account, in return for which the Libs have forsworn any serious effort to rein in federal spending. Not that either were making much of an effort before."

There's a reason that left of center voters in Canada support different parties: traditionally Liberal voters have been concerned by the N.D.P.'s financial recklessness and N.D.P. voters feel that the Liberal establishment places the interests of big business over those of working-class Canadians. Chances are, a significant minority of both sets of voters are wary of this deal this morning, seeing the truth in interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen's charge that "nothing more than a callous attempt by Trudeau to hold on to power."

Holding on to power, any way he can.

Bergen has rightly continued to stress that this is a deal for which no Canadian voted:

“Canadians have woken up to, in essence, an NDP-Liberal majority government. I think we have to let that sink in,” she said. “Make no mistake, the NDP are in charge,” insisted Bergen. She added that this deal means the “decimation of Canadian oil and gas” at a time when it is needed, but also “more debt, more inflation, more jobs lost, more uncertainty and, frankly, more polarization” across the country. “This is not a good day for Canadians.”

It's worth pointing out that there is nothing legally binding about an agreement like this. If enough New Democrat M.P.s make a stink, if perhaps some sane Liberals begin to drift towards the Tories, this deal could all fall apart overnight. In the meantime, the Conservatives have to stay focused on their ongoing leadership election. Hopefully this time they can avoid the self-interested Liberal-lite types, and put an actual conservative in charge.