The IMF may have changed, but Sri Lanka has not – The Island

By Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana

The ‘British Bombshell’, which some of us were praying for, sadly never materialized! If Rishi Sunak had been elected leader of the Conservative Party on September 5, it would have been a bombshell of unimaginable proportions: a politician of Indian origin becoming British Prime Minister! In fact, it would have been a double whammy for the former ‘colonial governor’ – India having overtaken the UK as the fifth largest economy just the day before. Times are changing fast and the East is beginning to dominate the world; it’s only a matter of time before China overtakes the United States as the world’s largest economy, if it hasn’t already. But this is another story.

Liz Truss was lucky. Maybe not as lucky as Ranil Wickremesinghe, but astrology believers would surely claim they have similar horoscopes! No one expected RW to be president and likewise Liz Truss was never the favorite when the contest began to find a leader for Britain’s Tories, following the disgraced exit of Boris Johnson. Like Ranil, Liz Trust is also not the people’s choice: far from it, as I will show.

When Boris was forced to resign for breaking rules he himself introduced during the pandemic, the Conservative Party launched the two-stage process to elect the new leader who would automatically become prime minister. The first stage consisted of five rounds of voting for Conservative MPs, eliminating the lowest candidate or candidates at each stage. There were eight contenders and at every stage Rishi Sunak was leading the poll. Liz Trust was a distant third in the first four laps, but came second on the last lap, very unexpectedly.

It was up to the members of the party to choose the leader, among the first two elected by the deputies. From July 21 to September 3, Rishi and Liz took part in televised debates, in addition to a number of hustings held across the country to woo voters. In a country of 66 million inhabitants, it is ultimately around 180,000 Conservative MPs who have chosen the next PM! Right off the bat, pollsters predicted a landslide victory for Liz Truss, which, in a way, is understandable because herd mentality reigns supreme even among humans. However, the result was closer than expected, although it was a convincing win for Liz Truss who garnered 81,326 votes, while Rishi Sunak’s tally was 60,399. This, no doubt , was due to Rishi’s superior performance in hustings. Moreover, the economic program he proposed was much more pragmatic; tackle inflation, not tax cuts as Liz Truss proposes.

Due to her advanced age, Her Majesty was unable to return to Buckingham Palace. Therefore, breaking tradition, Boris had to travel to Balmoral Castle in Scotland to tender his resignation, and for Liz Truss to receive the Queen’s invitation to form a new government, which she did in a while. record. Her return to Downing Street was delayed by the British weather and, after addressing the nation from outside No 10, she set about shaping her new cabinet.

Within hours, it became quite apparent that there was a total purge of Rishi Sunak supporters, and those who supported her and were close to Liz Trust were handsomely rewarded. One such beneficiary is our very own Ranil Jayawardena, who was blessed to be a minister in one of his previous ministries. He is the new Secretary of State for the Environment, Rural Affairs and Food. He is the British Prime Minister of Sri Lankan descent and we should be proud of his achievement. Well done Ranil. Congratulations!

To her credit, Liz Truss’ cabinet is the most diverse in British political history and it is very significant that for the first time a white man does not hold any of the four highest offices of state. Kwasi Kwarteng, the chancellor and James Cleverly, foreign minister are black, while Suella Braverman, the interior minister is of Indian origin. Although her father is from Goa, she is a practicing Buddhist, who was sworn in as Attorney General in Boris Johnson’s cabinet on Dhammapada. Of the 31 members of his cabinet, 10 are women, including Thérèse Coffee, Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of Health.

While Liz Truss deserves kudos for so successfully showcasing the talented ethnic diversity of modern Britain, she has made no attempt to unite the party. In fact, she did the exact opposite. Moreover, its economic policies are worrying. The current serious economic problems facing the UK, largely due to the continuing war in Ukraine, are unlikely to improve, as she is as enthusiastic about the Ukrainian war as Boris. On her first day in office, she accepted an invitation from President Zelensky to visit Ukraine!

In the UK, gas and electricity prices tripled in March and are expected to triple again in October. Inflation, long below 2%, was 10% in July and is gradually increasing. It is feared that many will have to choose between fuel and food in the winter, and the number of families relying on food banks is steadily increasing. Although the situation is a far cry from that of Sri Lanka, Britain is moving in the same direction.

Truss promised to roll back tax increases introduced by Rishi Sunak for next year when he was chancellor. In fact, she went further and promised tax cuts. To alleviate energy poverty, Rishi has provided for a windfall tax on energy companies. Liz Truss opposed it, stating that profiteering was conservative policy! When Rishi Sunak offered financial support to the needy, Liz Truss objected saying donations were not Conservative policy, but reversed her position during the campaign as she encountered strong opposition. In fact, it is well known for its U-turns, the best example being Brexit; she was a strong Remainer but now says she fully supports Brexit. Apparently, she made a mistake by being misled by erroneous Treasury projections! She made so many U-turns that in a televised debate, the host, after having listed ten U-turns, said “Will the real Liz Truss, please stand up!”, to the bursts of laughter from the public.

For tax cuts coupled with increased spending, it will have to borrow more and more. There is no doubt that this will add to inflationary pressure. Looks like the UK has been following the same path as Sri Lanka for years. As it stands, Liz Truss is very likely to lose the next general election scheduled for 2024, although she won’t fare too badly, as the Conservatives have been in power for 14 years. We will have a Labor government for five years and what it will do no one knows! Whether Rishi Sunak will replace Liz Truss as Tory leader after the next election defeat and subsequently become the UK’s first Indian-born Prime Minister, only time will tell. Nothing is impossible but the variables in politics are unfathomable!

Lynn A. Saleh