Ian Hislop trashes Liz Truss. But didn’t he boost Boris Johnson?

Ian Hislop on Have I Got News For You.

Here’s one to take with a pinch of salt.

The video clip below is promoted as “Ian Hislop dismantles Liz Truss, piece by piece” – and, sure, there’s an element of that in it.

There’s also a lot at the beginning about his new BBC Sounds documentary, Suburbia, that you can skip altogether, if you like. Start around the 13-minute point. And a bit at the end discussing the play he’s co-written about Spike Milligan. That’s fairly amusing so you might need it as a pick-me-up after the heavy politics.

But let’s get to the clip:

Hislop points out that the election Liz Truss has just won is nothing like any poll she’ll have to win in the future, because the voters were all Conservative Party members who are mainly past retirement age. As he points out, they’re not affected because the pensions triple-lock builds inflation into their income. The electorate as a whole is very bothered by the cost-of-living crisis, and this will come back to bite Truss if she does not act on it.

He reckons Truss will have a problem borrowing money to pay for any cost-of-living measures, being that nobody will lend her any money. Is this accurate? I don’t know but I think we’ll find out soon, because all the talk is that she’ll borrow £100 million for her big energy prices loan scheme, to be announced today (Thursday, September 8).

There’s a problem with cutting taxes, he says – and we know that, too; if Truss cuts taxes, then she’ll have no room to spend on the projects she has laid out in her Tory leadership election campaign. It’s not that the taxes will pay for these things, though – a UK government creates the money it needs to spend on public services; taxation merely works to prevent this extra money in the system from causing (or increasing) inflation. At the moment, with inflation skyrocketing because of Tory idiocies in the past – not just under Johnson but May and Cameron as well – tax cuts would worsen the problem. That’s probably the reason Hislop says she’ll have to raise taxes instead.

Truss’s arguments against acting on the cost-of-living crisis won’t work, says Hislop – partly because we all remember the furlough scheme that ran during the Covid-19 crisis (which is still ongoing, by the way), and partly because Truss has modelled herself on Margaret Thatcher – who did employ windfall taxation when she felt justified in doing so.

Nor will anti-nationalisation rhetoric work because most of the population – including Conservative voters – support it.

Then Hislop lays into “the current, caretaker prime minister” – meaning Boris Johnson. Hislop has spent a lot of effort, recently, attacking Johnson – but it is important to remember that Johnson’s rise to power was hugely eased by (for example) his appearances alongside Hislop on the BBC’s Have I Got News For You; if Hislop (and the show’s producers) had been a little less eager to help Johnson on his way, the UK could have avoided the darkest years in its recent history.

So This Writer finds it hard to swallow Hislop’s criticism of Johnson’s claim that he had to remain as prime minister throughout the summer – during which he took several holidays rather than acting to alleviate the huge national crises that he had created.

He is right where he says Johnson’s legacy should be “nothing – literally nothing. It should be, ‘Don’t allow amoral narcissists to become prime minister’.” But it is advice in hindsight; it would have been better for all if Hislop had thought of it a decade or so ago.

Going back to the Tory Party members who elected Liz Truss, Hislop points out that they are more right-wing than their MPs, meaning their new prime minister will pander to them. He rightly emphasizes that the hugely right-wing Johnson had to go because more members of his government quit, rather than work with him, than has ever happened before and it would be a lie to claim that the way forward is to be even more right-wing.

The political left had nothing to do with it, of course – possibly because there isn’t a political left-wing in Parliament any more; Keir Starmer has seen to that.

But trade unions seem to be filling the void – and surging in popularity as a result. The reaction of the Conservative government (as exemplified by Grant Shapps’s mistreatment of rail workers) shows that they haven’t had to deal with industrial unrest properly in a generation and don’t know how any more.

Again rightly, Hislop says if a trade union goes on strike, demanding a pay rise, the proper response of a government isn’t to throw up its collective hands and say they should ban trade unions. The proper response is to negotiate – suggest a compromise position in which all sides of the dispute can come out with honour.

It’s another area where Truss is going to fall on her face – stupidly, because, as Hislop says, “What do you think people are going to do? Sit at home thinking, oh yeah, I’d better have a 12 per cent pay cut – that looks good!”

But Keir Starmer is also set to fall hard because the unions have outflanked him to become the advocates of progressive politics in the UK. Labour, under Starmer, has become reactionary. He’s sitting on the fence, failing to put forward an alternative to the current government, and people are noticing.

Conversation moves on to what’s described as the “Covid companies” – those that rose during the Covid-19 crisis, to skim money from the public purse. Hislop thinks they are disgraceful (again failing to admit that they only happened because Boris Johnson was able to help them to happen).

He does make a good suggestion, though: why not a windfall tax on these firms? “If pre-Covid your profit was 3p and afterwards it’s £500 million, I think we could have a bit of that!”

The situation highlights the fact that civil servants capable of carrying out the procurement function properly seem to have disappeared, to be replaced by politically-motivated appointees. As Hislop says, we need people who can do these boring jobs properly because they are the only ones that matter.

The trouble is, David Cameron got rid of them all when he froze public sector pay, more than 10 years ago.

A classic example of money going to the wrong place is the chief executive of a rail firm getting a huge bonus while Shapps was urging pay restraint for rail workers – and as a result of the Covid crisis when nobody was taking the train anyway.

So: a huge number of problems with the UK’s current political machinery are identified. They are problems that could have been fixed, had Boris Johnson not been put in a position where he was able to fool millions of voters into electing him (with lies that he would make us all better-off via Brexit and that Jeremy Corbyn was a danger to the nation). And Hislop helped put Johnson in that position.

This Writer’s conclusion: we should be grateful that Hislop has brought his analytical skills to bear – while remembering that he is at least partly responsible for the problems he identified.

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