Forget all the opinion polls, frothy newspaper headlines, hyper-ventilating radio chat, portentous columnising and the general spume of current political debate; there is only one real test of any government’s ability to govern and that is its ability to win votes in the House of Commons.
For various reasons the new government has not yet had the opportunity to test its majority but starting today and for the next eleven weeks that majority will be put to the test. We will see how strong, or not, Liz Truss’s government really is. Until now the Prime Minister has been locked in a phoney war with her opponents within as well as without. Now she has the chance to assert herself and consolidate her position.
It is just worth remembering that Liz Truss would not now be the Prime Minister if the Conservative Parliamentary Party had not concluded Boris Johnson’s Premiership was a complete shambles. Such a shambles in fact that by the end he could barely find anyone to serve in it. For months his government had been in disarray. The leadership election perpetuated this stasis. By the time Johnson had left office the centre of government had become completely seized up, focussed solely on his personal survival and not focussed at all on the wider national interest.
Despite the eye watering headlines, the new government has been busy doing actual stuff. Nadhim Zahawi at the Cabinet Office has been sorting out the Cabinet Office, Brandon Lewis has ended the barrister’s strike, Anne Marie Trevelyan is trying to sort out the train network, Ben Wallace focussed on the Ukraine War and other riding threats, and for all its faults, Kwasi’s mini-budget thrusted in fundamentally the right and necessary direction. Truss herself – among many other things – is sorting out and improving the UK’s relationship with France which will unlock a better relationship with the EU. Four weeks in and the government is doing much necessary good work.
The public mood however is increasingly impatient and this is reflected in the febrile mood of Conservative MPs. It may be a new government but it’s the twelfth year of Conservative government and most of the Ministers serving in this administration are closely associated with the ones that preceded it. A sense of some shared responsibility for what has gone on before would be welcome.
An upside of a long period of one party being in government is that, hopefully, a huge amount of experience and wisdom is accumulated which can be used to avoid mistakes and thoughtless policy announcements. Governments, they say, lose elections rather than oppositions winning them. On the evidence of current polling, Labour barely has to rise from its bed of a morning to be confident of forming the next government, let alone actually announce any new policy or initiative. Indeed it must be very tempting for Labour to expose themselves as little as possible by announcing as little as possible, and who could reasonably blame them for thinking such a thought? For the government and for its backbenchers, the next eleven weeks will show whether it is a viable and sustainable political force. If it isn’t Labour is rested and ready.