Our political editor, WALTER CRONXITE, on the losers and losers in today’s government reshuffle
Calls to Downing Street sources this afternoon have failed to discover anyone prepared to offer an on-the-record denial that, when he got the call from the Prime Minister to become Britain’s fourth Chancellor of the Exchequer in four months, Jeremy Hunt did not say, “And I want him out of the Treasury.”
So it was that Chris Philp, Croydon South’s Tory MP, finally made a piece of British political history, as the shortest-lasting Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
Philp was in the role just 38 days, and this afternoon was clearing his desk, including his prized “I love Kwasi” mug (he got it in August, to replace the “I love Sajid” mug that somehow got broken), as he was shoved sideways to the non-job of Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office.
Even for Thick Lizzy Truss, it seems, a useful idiot has their uses…
Philp’s last parliamentary appearance had been in the Commons chamber on Wednesday, when he was selected to answer a tricky question about sums and adding up. The occasion prompted John Crace, the Grauniad’s sketch writer, to pen a line which will surely now stick with Croydon’s Tory MP for the rest of his career (whatever there is left of it).
Crace, who has long had the measure of Philp, wrote of PMQs: “Truss left the chamber to cries of ‘more’ from Labour and widespread indifference from her own side. That was the closest to enthusiasm the Tory benches could manage. She left behind the creepy Chris Philp – the Nose in Search of a Bum – to answer an urgent question on why the economy was even worse on Wednesday than it had been on Tuesday. The Labour benches were full. The government’s were nearly empty. Almost as if the Tories can’t bear to revisit the scene of the crime.”
The Nose in Search of a Bum.
With the markets tanking, the pound in a nose-dive again and the country’s reputation in tatters, Truss’s sacking of KamiKwasi Kwarteng as Chancellor can only be the beginning of the end of financial chaos that is of her and her government’s own making.
It has come to a pretty pass when we can think back a few years, to the heady days of stability and competence under a Chancellor as thoroughly boring as… Philip Hammond.
Today, Hammond joined the pile-on over the havoc caused by Truss, Kwarteng and, yes, Philp.
Referring to the Tory Party, Hammond said, “I’m afraid we have thrown away years and years of painstaking work to build and maintain a reputation as a party of fiscal discipline and competence in government.”
Jeremy Corbyn (remember him?) was more scathing. “It doesn’t matter how many Chancellors they get through,” he tweeted, “this Tory government is rotten to its very core.”
And Philp’s former parliamentary colleague, “Lord” Gavin Barwell, had this to say: “Sacking Kwasi Kwarteng only makes sense if [there’s a] big change in policy. Even then, unlikely to shift public opinion enough to save the PM, but it was her last option.”
And there was a policy change, announced by Truss at her afternoon press conference, with the scrapping of her flagship policy of a Corporation Tax cut which Kwarteng had announced in the Mini-Budget just three weeks ago.
The value of government bonds, which plunged after the Mini-Budget, and other state assets picked up on the markets almost immediately. But as one economist warned, “There is a bit of a risk that if we have only a partial U-turn then potentially the markets will come under pressure again next week,” said ING’s James Smith.
Truss’s government will be on the brink right through until the markets re-open on Monday morning.
“For now the Prime Minister has won breathing space, but the financial markets are highly sensitive and anything less than a co-operative approach with the Bank of England, the Office of Budget Responsibility and international institutions could cause fresh instability,” predicted City analyst Susannah Streeter, of Hargreaves Lansdown.
Andrew Megson, the CEO of My Pension Expert, told Inside Croydon, “Forget any political point-scoring or personal agendas, this whole episode – from the Mini-Budget on 23 September through to today’s unceremonious dismissal of the Chancellor – has set Britain back at a time when clear, decisive action was needed.
“People are crying out for clarity, stability and a little calm across the financial markets. If these things cannot be delivered, and quickly, the calls for a change of government will surely become too loud to ignore.”
Meanwhile, Hunt, the MP for South West Surrey and twice a loser in Tory leadership contests, moves into No11 Downing Street.
Edward Argar (who?), who was the Paymaster General, takes over as Chief Secretary to the Treasury from Philp.
The constituents of Croydon South, meanwhile, seem set to have to endure further ignominy as their MP continues to be wheeled out for broadcast sessions to defend the indefensible in what Crace describes as the “Trussterfuck” of a government.
But maybe even for someone apparently as thick-skinned as Philp, there is a sense that it’s all becoming a bit too much even for the Croydon SouthMP. By 5pm today, his Twitter profile was still saying he had a prestigious job at the Treasury.
Indeed, his last tweet was on Wednesday, and he even managed to get that wrong, as he proclaimed “Hood news”. Philp’s not the kind to “get down with the youth”.
Maybe “The Nose in Search of a Bum” line had cut to the quick.
Some suggested that Philp should be nominated for a peerage – by Keith Starmer, for services to the Labour Party. For it is certain that Philp, Kwarteng and Truss between them have done more to revive Labour’s fortunes than Starmer himself.
And while Thick Lizzy remains in charge, there are those in Croydon South who tonight will be wondering what’s the point in being Chris Philp in a world where there’s no safe Tory seats?
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