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Britain's prime minister is on shaky ground after her economic plan is rejected


Liz Truss is in some political trouble. The new British prime minister has been on the job for less than two months and already there are suggestions that her tenure could be cut short. Her new finance minister, Jeremy Hunt, just pulled the plug on Truss' budget, which included major tax cuts and deregulation. Rainbow Murray joins us now. She's a professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London. Thank you so much for being with us.


MARTIN: The new finance minister basically changed everything about the prime minister's whole economic plan yesterday. And he's the guy that she handpicked for the job. How does that happen?

MURRAY: Her predecessor did everything that she asked of him. He introduced radical tax cuts. He promised big increases in spending. But it was completely untenable because they pretended they had a money tree. And of course, no such thing exists. The markets realized it wasn't possible. The pound plummeted. Borrowing costs soared. The prime minister realized that she created a disaster. And so she had to sack the person who'd done her bidding and appoint someone else who was willing to tear up everything that she'd promised and start over again, which was deeply humiliating for her.

MARTIN: So what does that mean on a practical level - first, just for Brits who are living through this?

MURRAY: For Brits, it means all the tax cuts that were promised have now been taken away. We were promised two years of support with energy bills. That's now been reduced to six months. And we've been told that the next step is that public services are going to be cut. So we've been told - we've gone from being told that there was a money tree that could pay for everything to being told that there is no money and we have to cut spending on everything. But at least British people now feel that we're being told the truth. And the markets are starting to stabilize because the pessimistic scenario is actually the realistic one.

MARTIN: In an interview with the BBC yesterday, Liz Truss apologized for making mistakes but insisted that she is not stepping down. How much control does she have over her own future?

MURRAY: She has very little. She's lost the entirety of her credibility. And apology isn't sufficient because she has undermined confidence in the government. And there are also lasting legacies of what has happened, such as an increase in borrowing costs, which has a huge impact on anyone who has to repay a mortgage in the U.K. So people don't respect her. They don't trust her. And the government is now effectively being run by a chancellor who is going against the very program that the prime minister stood on. So the only thing really keeping her in office is a lack of alternatives. And I think if her party managed to coalesce around an alternative, they may well try to oust her before the next election.

MARTIN: I mean, these missteps, though - someone in her close circle of advisers had to have been warning her of the consequences of this. Did she just discount that guidance?

MURRAY: Yes, that was the tragedy. There were plenty of warnings. There were warnings all over the place. And she refused to listen to them and was absolutely convinced that her way was the right way, and that she would be proved right over the course of time as her policies paid off. But the problem was that so many people didn't believe them that she wasn't given the opportunity of time to test them because they had an instant negative effect, at which point she was effectively forced to turn around and change direction.

MARTIN: So what is the next step here? I mean, are there rumblings of a list of alternatives for prime minister?

MURRAY: There's certainly desire for it within the party. But there's also an awareness that we've had several changes of prime minister in recent years, and another leadership election would be disastrous. So I think there will only be a change at the helm if they can unite around a unity candidate without another leadership contest. And unity is something that has been hard to find in the Conservative Party in recent years.

MARTIN: Rainbow Murray, politics professor at Queen Mary University of London. We appreciate your perspective and context. Thanks.

MURRAY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.