Voices: It’s been a tough day for Kwasi Kwarteng and his planet-sized ego

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Before the chancellor’s speech, the police put the Tory party conference on lockdown. There’d been a “potential security incident”, apparently. Perhaps they’d been tipped off that a man was about to go on the main stage and not merely s*** himself but then seek to scoop it all up and cram it back up his own arse in the hope that no one would notice.

But they needn’t have worried because it didn’t happen – well, not the second bit, anyway. Kwasi Kwarteng wandered out into a hell of his own making, and just styled it out as if it wasn’t there.

It would be wrong to describe what he’s done as the mother of all U-turns, because it’s so much more than a U-turn, and so much worse.

Late on Sunday night, the chancellor sent out extracts from his speech. It included the line “we must stay the course”. The Daily Express dutifully splashed those five words across its front page. And then, at about 1am, he changed his mind and announced that the most toxic measure in his entirely toxic budget – the tax cut for millionaires – had in fact been reversed. “We get it, and we have listened,” he eventually said, on social media, announcing that the cut had been scrapped.

In scenes on which no satirist could ever hope to improve, the actual prime minister recorded a whole load of regional TV interviews in which she defended her top-rate tax cut, but then reversed the policy before the embargo on those interviews was lifted, so lunchtime TV news viewers were treated to the quite incredible spectacle of their prime minister vigorously defending a policy she had already abandoned.

You have to wonder whether Christopher Nolan himself could have come up with this kind of interwoven, multi-reality s***show. Normally, everything is complete b******s, and it still very much is, but you can’t even work out what’s real.

The only acknowledgement the chancellor managed to make, of possibly the most spectacular political self-immolation of all time, was to amble on stage and say: “It’s been a tough day”. Yes it has been a tough day, but not that tough.

It’s been a tough day for Kwasi Kwarteng, because he is the most highly self-regarding man in all of Westminster, and quite possibly the world, and he has made a cosmic arse of himself, but other people have had tougher days. People, for example, who’ve had to re-fix their mortgage in the last 10 days, and find it subject to what the BBC’s Nick Robinson referred to on the Today programme, in the presence of the chancellor, as “the Kwarteng premium”.

Kwarteng didn’t like that. He accused his interlocutor of “presenting a distorted version of reality” – a subject on which, eight hours later on the main stage in Birmingham, he would reveal himself to be the world expert.

There he would stand and promise to “get Britain moving”. He would stand behind a lectern saying those same three words, and in front of three giant billboards all saying exactly the same as well, when – if you stop and ask anyone in the street – the only place Kwasi Kwarteng has got Britain moving to is a much, much smaller house.

He would stand there and tell his audience: “We are the party of fiscal discipline; we are the serious custodians of the public purse. This is what defines us and differentiates us from the Labour Party.” He would say those words, having just borrowed £45bn to pay for entirely unfunded tax cuts – such a huge sum that the mere act of doing it has near doubled the interest rate at which the government can borrow money.

He spoke of the dire economic situation he had inherited. “We were faced with the highest tax burden in 70 years,” he said. “The path we were on was unsustainable.” Which it may well have been, but both he and his boss have been senior figures in the government for quite a long time, and they would still be gladly wandering down that path for many years to come but for a few illegal cheese and wine parties in the last guy’s house.

He spoke of the “great ideas” of the “inspirational British people”, yet the most recent great idea they’ve had is to take one look at Kwasi Kwarteng and hand the Labour Party a fully 33 per cent poll lead. And that poll lead really does reveal the true, unsurpassable wonder of what the Tories have managed to do. It has been a peerless performance in how to f*** everything up. You announce £45bn of unfunded tax cuts, which will be paid for by borrowing, right at the time when borrowing becomes more expensive, and actually force up the cost of borrowing through making the announcement.

You also very deliberately make the most attention-grabbing aspect of that borrowing a promise to cut taxes for millionaires, by leaving it right to the end of your budget statement – the “rabbit in the hat” moment – so that when mortgage rates are driven up, people are quite correct in their rage that it has been done solely to give your Tory mates a tax break (you also attend a champagne reception for your pound-shorting hedge-fund pals, for whom you used to work).

And then, when it lands you fully 33 points behind in the polls, you reverse the most unpopular bit, which accounts for only £2bn of the unfunded borrowing. So you keep all the market damage, all the economic illiteracy, but still clearly reveal what side you’re on. It’s a kind of simultaneous economic and political suicide, which you seem to think you can undo by announcing that you sort of regret the political bit.

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Except that you don’t actually regret it. What’s actually happened is that, in the middle of the night, you’ve worked out that despite having a 70-seat majority, you’ve done a budget so bad that your own party won’t pass it.

All this madness has led people to describe Liz Truss as the Tory Jeremy Corbyn. A leader foisted on the party’s MPs against their wishes, with unhinged ideas that almost none of them support. It’s a tempting metaphor, but it’s not quite right. She is the Tory Theresa May. She has, in effect, thrown away her Commons majority without even getting round to having an election.

Even some of her own most loyal backers now think she needs to call one, but I’m not so sure. So there has been a slight change of direction, and a change of personnel, but there’s still an old Etonian, with a classics degree and a planet-sized ego, pulverising his country’s reputation and his people’s life chances solely because he is so very sure that he knows best.

This is exactly what the people voted for, so they’d better try and enjoy it, because Kwasi Kwarteng’s made it absolutely clear he’s not going to change his mind, apart from on the bits that don’t matter.