As the race for No 10 heats up with both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt taking to task one another’s Brexit policy, another important race is largely being overlooked. To a great extent, a prime minister’s legacy is decided on the quality and agenda of their chancellor – which is why the next leader must get it right.
Let’s assume for the sake of not wasting time that Boris Johnson will become prime minister later this month. He will need a chancellor who’s intellectually curious, with a strong ideological set of beliefs, a grip on the details, a radical drive for reform, and the ability to communicate clearly.
Which is why the recent rumours swirling around Westminster about Matt Hancock and Sajid Javid being lined up for the job are peculiar. The only senior politician who has consistently stood up for economic and personal freedom is Liz Truss – and she did so before it was fashionable.
The problem with both Hancock and Javid is that nobody really knows what they stand for – and perhaps they don’t either. Hancock talks about being pro-business and pro-enterprise, yet during the leadership election he proposed an “Amazon tax” and is a long-serving member of the “nannies r us” club, wanting to extend sin taxes.
Javid, meanwhile, has disappointed many during his time at the home office, where he’s consistently seemed to compromise his principles in order to gain easy popularity with the Tory membership.
The next inhabitant of No 11 must not be someone who dithers or hides from the big decisions or one who waters down their policies in the pursuit of trying to win over those who will never be persuaded – and that is exactly why Boris must appoint Liz Truss to be his chancellor.
An awkward truth for Boris is that many Tories – especially the free-market caucus and younger members – are backing him simply because they think it will result in chancellor Truss. This is largely because she, unlike most other Tory politicians, has been willing to put her head above the parapet and actually talk about her beliefs. She doesn’t mess around sanctimoniously declaring that she’s moderate, pragmatic, and all the other boring words that the party elites think the electorate wants to hear – she just says what she believes.
She rose to prominence because members shared her sense that the party was going far too much in the direction of dirigisme, and when she started speaking about the need to make the case for free markets, free enterprise, and individual liberty, it resonated with a membership opposed to Theresa May’s “the good that government can do” howler of a speech.
And that is what Britain need: a chancellor who understands economics, has the proposals for the supply-side reforms needed to get Britain back on track, and the ability to communicate.
Her three-step plan for reforming the economy, for example, is a clear recipe for prosperity: tackling vested interests, championing the personal freedom that modern Britain offers, and harnessing Brexit to make sure that there are opportunities for all, regardless of background – all while extolling the virtues of our capitalist system – a system that has lifted more people out of poverty across the globe than any other system in the history of mankind.
And her rise has been a long time coming. We at 1828 had the pleasure of hosting Truss at an event earlier this year, and she electrified the room with her detailed policy proposals and fresh, vibrant outlook on the economy.
She understands the most important domestic issues of the day, especially housing. She gets that in order to bring house prices down we need to reform a planning system that harks back to 1947 – she doesn’t simply go around moaning that housing is unaffordable but completely opposing any measure to increase the supply.
She understands that while it may take a while to convince voters, you can’t call yourself leaders unless you lead and work to shape the political environment. People may not initially like the idea of building on the green belt, but as Truss rightly says: offer them a site of homes next to where they live versus the possibility of a Corbyn government which would tax them to oblivion and seek to appropriate their home – and that may focus their minds.
On this and so many other topics, you can be sure that Truss will always make a positive, forward-thinking case for the measures that will most further freedom and prosperity.
Indeed, as she said: “If you look at the opinion polling for the younger generations, they are less likely to want higher taxes than older generations. They are more likely to start up businesses, and more likely to cite making money as a motivating factor for that. They believe in the concept of personal responsibility. You have a generation that fundamentally believes in economic and personal freedom – that should be the ideal target audience for the Conservatives.
In fact, since 2015, there has been an 85 per cent rise in the number of businesses set up by 18-24-year-olds. That is twice the level of businesses set up by the same age group in France and Germany. So, it’s not just this generation, it’s this generation here in Britain that is unique and special, and I think that’s really exciting.”
The key point here for Conservatives is that the party cannot expect people to wax lyrical about economic and personal freedom if our leaders simply can’t be bothered – or lack the ability – to make the case for it. Nor can you expect to win over modern Britain when the leading candidate to become the next prime minister has a team that resembles a stuffy old boys’ club.
And a key point about Truss is that, crucially, she doesn’t just have the ideas, she is the most qualified person for the job too. She studied PPE at university, she worked for Shell as a commercial manager, and Cable and Wireless as the economics director before going on to become a qualified management accountant.
And after losing her first two elections, she didn’t give up or throw away her drive to implement her beliefs, she instead added more fuel to her fire of ambition and became the full-time deputy director of Reform, where she advocated more rigorous academic standards in schools, a greater focus on tackling serious and organised crime, and urgent action to deal with Britain’s falling competitiveness. Not to mention she has also co-authored The Value of Mathematics, A New Level, and Britannia Unchained, among other reports.
And, of course, she has spent the past two years as chief secretary to the treasury – or chief disruptor as she is known within Westminster – arguing for the supply-side reforms that are necessary if people up and down the country are to have the freedom to succeed.
This experience becomes even more important when you consider the complacency that has gripped Downing Street over the past few years. And the only remedy is putting an unapologetically political chancellor in No 11 and giving her the freedom to unleash Britain’s potential with a positive, ambitious, and forward-thinking outlook.
And that’s what our country desperately needs: a chancellor who isn’t afraid of making the case for economic liberalism, who stands up to officials across Whitehall, and who understands that in order to win over modern Britain, you have to love and champion it as it is, not look like you want to hark back to the past.
Championing modern Britain as it is will also be key to winning over more younger voters, which is – again – an area in which Truss beats all other senior Tories. She is the only one who seems to get the Uber-riding, Airbnb-ing, Deliveroo-eating generation of young, freedom-loving Brits.
And while it’s true that other senior Tories are now increasingly adopting Truss’s stances – which is, of course, welcome – the right person to take the reins of the Treasury is the visionary who led the way in making the case for this freedom-based agenda.
Britain’s first female prime minister reversed managed decline. Liz Truss, as our first female chancellor, would bring the same fired-up drive to implementing a recipe for prosperity. She is a fiscal hawk, an industrial economist by trade, and she embodies the principles on which the Conservative party must stand if it is to survive. Frankly, if she isn’t appointed as the UK’s first female chancellor, Boris Johnson will have already failed one of his most important tasks on day one.