- George Monbiotjournalist, author and columnist with The Guardian.
British Prime Minister Liz Truss resigned Thursday after just 45 days in office, the shortest term in the nation’s history. Her low-tax, low-regulation financial policies were widely criticized after they sent the pound plummeting, causing several senior ministers to quit. We speak to George Monbiot, British journalist at The Guardian, about her short-lived time in office, what this says about the Conservative Party, and who her likely successor will be. “You’d think we’d have a general election after all this chaos, … but that’s not how it works in this country, because we are a democracy in name only,” says Monbiot.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Britain, where Liz Truss has resigned as prime minister after just 45 days in office. During her time in office, the pound plummeted in value after she pushed for sweeping tax cuts on the rich. Truss announced her resignation outside 10 Downing Street Thursday.
PRIME MINISTER LIZ TRUSS: I was elected by the Conservative Party with a mandate to change this. We delivered on energy bills and on cutting national insurance. And we set out a vision for a low-tax, high-growth economy, that would take advantage of the freedoms of Brexit. I recognize, though, given the situation, I cannot deliver the mandate on which I was elected by the Conservative Party. I have therefore spoken to His Majesty the King to notify him that I am resigning as leader of the Conservative Party.
AMY GOODMAN: Truss is the shortest-serving prime minister in the history of the United Kingdom. The Conservative Party is aiming to pick a new prime minister within a week. Many analysts say the leading candidates to replace Truss include the former Chancellor Rishi Sunak, the House of Commons leader Penny Mordaunt and former Prime Minister Boris Johnson — who Truss replaced. Meanwhile, the Labour Party and other opposition parties are pushing for an immediate general election.
We’re joined now by George Monbiot, the author, activist and Guardian columnist. His recent piece is headlined “I’m part of the 'anti-growth coalition' Liz Truss loves to hate — and I’m proud of it.” His latest book, Regenesis: Feeding the World Without Devouring the Planet.
George, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about what just happened.
GEORGE MONBIOT: [inaudible] that she had to go. What happened was that Liz Truss applied pure neoliberal theory, in the expectation that it would act as a kind of magic dust which would create massive growth and prosperity in this country, just as neoliberal theory predicted. Her policies were shaped by opaquely funded lobby groups, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the TaxPayers’ Alliance, the Adam Smith Institute, Center for Policy Studies — all of which boasted, on September the 23rd, when her mini budget was published, that they had got exactly what they wanted and that they themselves were the authors of those policies. Clearly, they’re now trying to distance themselves. And what they’ve been trying to do throughout their existence is to sweep away taxes on the rich, to sweep away regulations, to sweep away trade unions, to sweep away protest and other fundamental civic rights, and create what they think of as a pure market economy, which really means allowing the rich to overwhelm democracy. It means plutocracy rather than democracy.
Now, in the past, successive prime ministers have had similar agendas, but they’ve also had to temper them slightly, because they have some, more or less, realistic appreciation of what the public might be able to tolerate. But Liz Truss, her great failing, from the point of view of being a politician, was she’s completely unable to read people. She seems to have no social antennae at all and no concept of what she might be doing to other people. I believe she’s entirely devoid of empathy. And so, she didn’t try to disguise her agenda. She didn’t try to wrap it up in platitudes. She just forced it through. And interestingly, for someone who believes that the markets should have the final word on everything, the markets had the final word on Liz Truss, because she tanked the economy.
AMY GOODMAN: So, now talk about what’s going to happen. The speculation that Boris Johnson could actually replace her? He has just returned from holiday. Talk about Rishi Sunak and the others, and whether there are differences between them.
GEORGE MONBIOT: It’s a quite extraordinary thing in this country that, you know, we can have a new prime minister without it ever being put to the people, without any of their policies being approved by the people. The only people who get a vote on this are members of the Conservative Party, believed to be about 160,000 of them, a majority of whom — a small majority of whom voted for Liz Truss. So that’s 0.1% of our population. And any one these completely discredited characters could be brought back in as our prime minister without any of us having a say over it.
And this horrifying prospect that Boris Johnson, like Berlusconi or Netanyahu, this ghost who constantly haunts our politics, this bad memory we try to put behind us but just keeps coming back, that he could once again be our prime minister, having presided over a disaster even greater than those which Liz Truss caused. His completely useless COVID policies killed tens of thousands of people who would otherwise have been alive. He lied, and he lied, and he lied, about everything. I mean, he’s a pathological liar. And while the rest of us were locked down and trying our best to ensure that the infection wasn’t spreading, he was having party after party in Downing Street. Basically, the law is for the little people, not for me. And so he is the first prime minister we’ve ever had who received a criminal sanction while in office. As prime minister, he acquired a criminal record when he was fined for just one of those parties, which, incidentally, he lied about repeatedly in Parliament, as well. They want to bring this man back? I mean, it shows just how totally corrupt, intellectually bankrupt, morally bankrupt the Conservative Party has become.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain who Rishi Sunak is, the person who lost out to Liz Truss, the former chancellor.
GEORGE MONBIOT: Yeah. So, he is the richest member of Parliament in the United Kingdom. His net worth, along with his wife’s, who inherited this huge fortune, amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars. He’s got homes all over the country, including a giant home in the poshest part of London entirely reserved for visitors, so that they can put up their guests in this home, in a country which has got a massive housing crisis.
He, too, was fined over illegal parties when he was chancellor of the Exchequer — in other words, the treasury secretary in the United Kingdom. And he also seems to have no concept of how people live, no concept of what it is to be pushed towards destitution, as millions in this country are being pushed. And he’s another candidate of the ultrarich. He is himself ultrarich, and he represents the ultrarich. He does not represent the people of this nation.
AMY GOODMAN: And the possibility that there would be a general election? And what about the Labour Party’s Keir Starmer? Though it is called the Labour Party, he recently told Labour politicians not to join the recent railway workers’ picket line.
GEORGE MONBIOT: Yes. In fact, he sacked one of his own shadow cabinet members for attending a strike, which is severing the Labour Party from its roots, which were in the labor movement, as the name suggests.
So, you would think that we would have a general election after all this chaos, after — well, we’re going to now have our third prime minister since the last general election — but that’s not how it works in this country, because we are a democracy in name only. And the only two ways in which we could get a general election would be if the government were to call one — and given that it’s about 50 points behind in the polls, that seems unlikely — or if there is a no-confidence vote in the government passed in the House of Commons. But given that they have an 80-seat majority, that, too, seems unlikely. So, the merry-go-round begins again.
And, you know, the really terrifying thing is not so much who’s in charge, but what they’re able to pass in terms of legislation while they are prime minister. And something which has scarcely been reported in the press here — I mean, it’s just — it beggars belief that we’re not all screaming about this — was the Public Order Bill, which was passed through the House of Commons just a few days ago by the home secretary, the day before she was pushed out of office. Like all Tory casualized workers in our Tory economy, as soon as she had done the business, she was chucked out.
And this Public Order Bill is the most repressive legislation ever experienced in the U.K. in the modern era, and potentially the most repressive legislation in any OECD member in recent times. If you have protested in the previous five years, you can be forced to wear an electronic tag and to have your home fitted with monitoring equipment. You can be forced to report to the police as and when they choose. You can be forced to stay at home. You can be forced not to go to certain places, no longer to associate with friends of yours. You’re no longer allowed to attend any protest or, indeed, to talk about attending a protest or encourage anyone else to attend a protest. This is just one of the astonishingly draconian measures which has been pushed through, right under the radar, just before the Truss government collapsed.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, George Monbiot, I wanted to ask you about your recent column in The Guardian titled “Do we really care more about Van Gogh’s sunflowers than real ones?” You write about the two climate activists who recently threw cans of tomato soup onto Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers painting at the London National Gallery to call out the U.K. government’s role in fueling the climate catastrophe. Your final thoughts?
GEORGE MONBIOT: Yeah, so, this is desperation. Young people are absolutely desperate. What does it take to be heard about this? What does it take to point out that Earth systems are collapsing. And people have expressed utter horror about this soup throwing — which, incidentally, did no damage at all to the painting, as the activists calculated, because it was protected by a Perspex shield — but much less horror about the prospect of losing the habitable planet. And I think, well, you know, I greatly value art, and we should protect it, but I don’t understand why we’re not protecting the planet with the same criteria, why we’re not applying the same standards of protection to life on Earth.
AMY GOODMAN: George Monbiot, we want to thank you for being with us, author, activist and Guardian columnist — we’ll link to your columns at democracynow.org — speaking to us from Devon, England.
Next up, we look at the upcoming U.N. climate summit in Egypt, but we’re going to stay in Britain. We’re going to speak with Naomi Klein, who’s in British Columbia, and Sanaa Seif, the sister of Alaa Abd El-Fattah, Egypt’s highest-profile political prisoner. Sanaa and her sister Mona are staging a sit-in in London to see Britain’s help in securing Alaa’s release. Stay with us.