Long stories short
- Putin said the UN-brokered Ukrainian grain export deal was a “scam” and vowed to limit the number of countries that receive shipments.
- Californians were urged to conserve power and prepare for rolling blackouts as a record heatwave led to increased air-conditioner use.
- The Dutch city of Haarlem announced plans to ban meat advertising in public places because of its climate impact.
Joe Biden warned her not to mess with the Northern Ireland Protocol. The folks at the New York Times say she reminds them of that famous racist, Enoch Powell. The wife of a departing minister called her an imbecile, and Matthew Parris, the former Conservative MP, spoke for many serving ones when he called her “a planet-sized mass of overconfidence and ambition teetering upon a pinhead of a political brain”.
Welcome, Liz Truss, to Number 10.
It’s true the new prime minister’s first two speeches since being named Conservative leader have been empty of substance and charisma. The first seemed to have been written by an algorithm still tuned to the 0.03 per cent of voters who backed her rather than a national audience. The second was as wooden as the Downing Street lectern. The closest thing in it to a rhetorical flourish was three words of warmed-over Churchill: “Action this day.”
But wait. “She’s a politician who’s still finding herself,” Archie Norman, the former Conservative Party Chief Executive, told Tortoise last night. It follows that voters are still finding her too. She won’t be defined by the past three months, but the next three. Her appointments and announcements over the next three days are critical, and she wasn’t kidding about action.
The reshuffle. Truss moved directly from lectern to bloodbath. Most remaining vestiges of Teams Johnson and Sunak were removed from power by dusk.
- Priti Patel, Dominic Raab and Nadine Dorries – ersatz big beasts in the absence of real ones in the brief age of Boris – are gone.
- Prominent holdovers – Ben Wallace at defence and Jacob Rees-Mogg, the new business secretary – are conspicuous by their scarcity.
- White men are absent for the first time from the four top jobs. Kwasi Kwarteng (chancellor), James Cleverly (foreign secretary) and Suella Braverman (home secretary) join Truss in the inner sanctum. For what it’s worth, the Conservatives have now delivered four non-white chancellors in a row and three women prime ministers.
The energy plan. Truss has promised one within a week. Details would have been welcome before the leadership announcement so she could have been judged on them, but they’re now leaking fast.
- The Times puts the total cost at £150 billion or more, based on freezing bills at their current average of £1,970 and keeping a £400-per-household support payment promised by the last government.
- That means colossal borrowing at rising costs. The FT says Truss is on a collision course with a Bank of England that will be forced to raise rates to tame inflation, even though that is the whole point of the energy package too. Base rates could nearly double to 3 per cent by Christmas.
The department of unsolicited advice. Truss will get plenty of it, but there were two choice nuggets last night:
- Take on the Treasury. Mandarins will counsel caution, but Vince Cable, former business secretary and LibDem leader, welcomed signs that Truss intends to defy them: “There’s going to be heavy borrowing and if that means a debt-to-GDP ratio of over 100 per cent, so be it… Rates are still low in historic terms. I think it’s time to take on the Treasury orthodoxy.”
- Tell the truth. “The right thing to do is level with the public on the NHS and the economy,” Norman told last night’s ThinkIn. “The government can’t solve oil and gas prices. It can only put a balm on the wounds. The genesis of any turnaround is the unvarnished truth.”
Part of the truth is that the UK is effectively at war with Russia. Truss seems to realise this. She has left her defence secretary in place, is planning to borrow as if for war and has credited Johnson twice in two days for “standing up to Putin”. Her first overseas call last night was to Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky, who seemed delighted.
Another part is that borrowing is deferred taxation: Truss will either have to steer the country into insolvency or U-turn on her no-new-taxes pledge.
She has a few months at most to persuade sceptical voters, 99.985 per cent of whom did not vote for her this summer, that she’s the right captain for this winter’s inevitable storms. One of her own ministers said last night she wouldn’t last two years.
CAPITAL ECONOMY, BUSINESS AND FINANCE
Since the war began, Russia has earned €165 billion from fossil fuel sales, the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air reports. That’s at least 1.5 times as much as it has spent on the invasion of Ukraine – an estimated €100 billion. The EU’s share of fuel imports from Russia has been cut twice but it is still the top importer, paying €87 billion so far, €19 billion of which came from Germany, in second place after China which has paid Russia €35 billion. Egypt, India and the UAE (which had surged its crude oil exports), are re-exporting Russian oil or their own rather than using Russian fuel, CREA says. It has called for measures to stop the use of EU-flagged ships for transporting Russian oil to third countries, and a ban oil imports from refineries that purchase Russian oil.
TECHNOLOGY AI, SCIENCE AND NEW THINGS
Rail road to Bishkek
China wants to build a railway to Kyrgyzstan, the world’s most beautiful country. The context is fascinating – as Russia writhes in a morass of its own making in Ukraine, Beijing is manoeuvring to expand its influence in Central Asia. But the implications aren’t good for Kyrgyz democracy, which has always struggled to flourish in such an autocratic neighbourhood, and the topography is daunting. The plan, the Economist reports, is to build a line that climbs to the Torugart Pass, 3,752 metres above sea level and nearly as many above the oasis of Kashgar, and then crosses the roof of the world to Jalalabad on the north side of the Fergana Valley. Never was there a bolder plan to turn the Silk Road to steel.
The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT
The cost of vulnerability
Liz Truss has already pledged to “deliver” (see above) a plan for the energy crisis. But even if households’ energy bills are capped, they will still be significantly higher this winter than last year. That makes the warning from the chief executive of NHS North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board, Samantha Allen, about the risk of cutting off power to the clinically vulnerable particularly concerning. In a letter to the energy regulator Ofgem, Allen said she was already seeing examples of vulnerable people who rely on electric devices to survive – for their oxygen supply, for example – being disconnected from the grid, leading to hospital admission. “Put simply”, she writes, “the impact of having their energy supply terminated will be life-threatening.” Technically, clinically vulnerable people should not have their supply disconnected – even if they can’t afford to pay – but that requires energy companies to have up-to-date patient lists that are checked frequently. It’s a problem buying a kettle won’t solve.
Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics
How to declare a famine
What does it take to declare a famine? There are three specific hurdles to clear: 20 per cent of households must face extreme lack of food; one in three children must be acutely malnourished; two people out of every 10,000 must be dying from starvation every day. This means that by the time famine is declared, it is already too late: in the 2011 Somalia famine about 50 per cent of people who died did so before the famine was official. This week the UN humanitarian chief said famine was “at the door” in Somalia once again, as the country faces the worst drought in decades, soaring food prices and an al-Shabaab insurgency. The heads of 18 UN organisations said famine was already present in two areas of the country, while 20.5 million people across the Horn of Africa face a “dire and entirely avoidable” hunger crisis. Death doesn’t wait for a definition.
CULTURE soCIETY, IDENTITY AND BELONGING
Don’t visit Rwanda
One of Priti Patel’s last announcements as the UK’s home secretary was that plans were being made for another refugee flight to Rwanda. The first one, of course, didn’t happen. It was grounded by “leftie” lawyers’ appeals on behalf of asylum seekers objecting to being sent to a Central African police state against their will. The second one might not happen either. The UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, has intervened in the High Court in London to say Rwanda isn’t safe and refugees sent there could be sent on to countries where they would be at risk of torture. Drawing board, anyone? Further listening: Hashi Mohammed’s Slow Newscast on what happened when the plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda was tried before.
Thanks for reading. Please share this round, send us ideas and tell us what you think. Email us at email@example.com
Additional reporting by Phoebe Davis and Jessica Winch.
Photographs Getty Images, Simon Dawson / Number 10
in the tortoise app today
Troubles for Truss
As prime minister, Liz Truss faces a raft of problems: energy price rises fuelled by the war in Ukraine, a struggling economy and the NHS under pressure.