Zugzwang for TrussTweng?

14 Oct

International chess tournament in Reykjavik, 2017

Zugzwang – “compulsion to move” – is a situation in chess and other turn-based games wherein a player is placed at a disadvantage because of their obligation to make a move when any legal move will worsen their position.


Where would English speakers be without the German genius for building polysyllabic gems, Lego-style? It gave us schadenfreude  and weltenschauung … blitzkrieg  and splitterfasernackt  (stark bollock naked) … spitzbub  (ne’er do well) and, mid nineteenth century, zugzwang.

I first encountered that last in June this year, as the one-word title of a Ukraine piece by former UK diplomat and gamekeeper turned poacher Alastair Crooke. It popped up again, also in the title – you don’t hide a word like this in the small print! – of a Richard Murphy post yesterday. Never one for prolixity, he kept it short and sweet:

Truss is in zugzwang

I was reminded of the German word zugzwang this morning. It’s a term used in chess that means you are obliged to take a turn, but whatever [legal] move you make, your situation can only get worse. The only alternative is to resign.

Truss would appear to be in zugzwang.

She is. ConservativeHome editor Henry Hill had come to the same conclusion a fortnight ago. In a Guardian piece of October 1st – Commanding no loyalty, with no winning moves, Liz Truss is facing her endgame – this old school Tory wrote:

Beneath the [Tory] dismay is a growing suspicion there isn’t a viable Truss project at all. The core of the problem is simple: to calm the markets, Kwarteng has pledged to balance his £43bn of unfunded tax cuts with cuts to public spending. Yet no politically viable path to cuts on that scale exists.

A smallish haircut to every departmental budget doesn’t get you there. What it does get you is lots of toxic little stories leaked to the press, such as a proposal to cut free Remembrance Day rail travel for ex-servicemen. This is exactly the sort of thing that is floated when government departments are asked to find savings without making cuts to their core services.

Gutting capital investment spending doesn’t get you there either, notwithstanding that Truss pledged on the campaign train to deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail. No, the only way you save £40bn is by making huge cuts in the departments that spend the most, such as health, work and pensions, and education. Yet in her speech in Birmingham, Truss listed ambitious goals for the health secretary, her close ally Thérèse Coffey.

This means more pressure elsewhere. But a leader who doesn’t visibly command the loyalty of her parliamentary party can’t impose her will on departments, which is why Truss is currently on the verge of another major U-turn on real-term benefits cuts. Which leaves education. We’ve not heard much about that so far. Kwarteng may expect MPs who have spent years fighting for a new national funding formula and better deals for their local schools to sign off on a big budget cut. I’d like to be in the room when he makes this request.

There’s no winning move for the prime minister. She either backs down, goes down fighting in the Commons, or risks even greater market chaos if she won’t balance the books. 

Yes, the schadenfreude  is exquisite. If TrussTweng are still in Downing Street at year’s end, I’ll put up a splitterfasernackt  selfie on these hallowed pages. But schadenfreude  is a short lived thing, no? Let’s by all means raise a glass to the discomfiture of the gobsmackingly arrogant Kwamikazi and Trussterfuck. But let’s not forget that when these two spitzbubs  are turfed out of Nos 11 and 10, they won’t exactly be sleeping on the streets or the sofas of kith and kin …

… unlike thousands of Brits who, debted up to the eyeballs with fixed rate mortgage deals near the end of their terms, now live in fear of repossession.

Here’s a passage from another of Richard Murphy’s posts yesterday:

I suspect Truss will be gone well before Christmas. I doubt that even the Tories can suffer her for any longer than that. I also think an election likely, although the precise route to it is as yet unclear. After yesterday, where the storm was as much political as financial, I cannot see any other real option for them, and believe sufficient will realise that.

And then? What will a profoundly neoliberal Labour government with a landslide majority do? That is a question for another post.

Just short of two years ago I took flak – from those vanishingly few liberal pals who haven’t yet excommunicated me – for saying I wouldn’t be dancing in the streets at Sleepy Joe’s victory over the Tangerine Narcissist. They were right. I was wrong. Shit, with Team Trump still in situ, we’d likely be staring at WW3 by now

I expect still more flak for agreeing with bevin, a frequent visitor to this site. In a comment nine days ago, he wrote:

The natural political division in the UK right now is between Blairism and Socialism. Truss is not the first Tory PM to dissolve on contact, she is the fourth in less than a decade. The Tory ‘brand’ is no longer fit for purpose – Blairism serves the ruling class far better. And when it is opposed by Toryism it is unbeatable because the only alternative is a clumsier version of itself.

* * *

17 Replies to “Zugzwang for TrussTweng?

  1. Living in Canada I miss much in the way of what the Welsh call political nuance but the thing that surprises me is that the Liberals (Democrats) so not appear to be steaming up in the polls. Or are they?

    Maybe Clegg finished them off forever but there was a time when a Starmer and a Truss would lead to a big boost for the Liberals. A choice between Starmer and someone who made him seem viable/attractive ought to equal a Liberal landslide as well as the lowest turnout ever.

    By the way Philip before you elevate my ‘quote’ to motto status could you change “in contact” to “on contact”?

    • There seems to be a reasonable argument which suggests the origin of the Lib Dems (not to be confused with the original Liberals who were subsumed into the SDP despite Michael Meadowcroft attempting to run that Liberal Brand as a separate entity for a number of years) problems in this regard was what became known as the ‘Orange Book’ around the time Kennedy was on his way out as Party Leader.

      As I recall this effectively cemented Lib-Dem philosophy as based on the tenets of Neo-liberalism. Leaving the UK offering three different brands of the same product in terms of political/democratic options at the five yearly farces which pass for General Elections here..

  2. The rationale of much of Richard Murphy’s recent output, setting out the baked in negative features of a system structure and process and its outcomes encapsulated by the catch all term ‘Neo-liberalism’, implicitly (though unfortunately insufficiently in explicit terms) points to the fact that it is not just Truss/The Tory Party which is now in a state of Zugzwang.

    Murphy’s arguments are sufficiently clear: Everything contained in what is treated as the Black Box designated ‘Neo-liberalism’ needs to be jettisoned rather than simply managed in a different or ‘better’ way. It, and its joined at the hip twin – which Murphy, among many others, fails to make a very obvious link* – ‘Neo-Conservatism’ needs to be completely eradicated once and for ever. Eradicated in the same way that parasitic diseases are eradicated.

    And therein lies the problem which is too often skirted around. The fact which gets whispered and mumbled, at best (and some credit to Murphy for at least a single sentence heads up to the elephant in the room), is that the only available Governing alternative, the Labour Party, is equally committed to a paradigm it is argued is and never was fit for purpose and needs to be gone at the very latest yesterday.

    For sure, whatever label you attach – Neo-liberalism/Blairism/Thatcherism/ Neo Feudalism (and Micheal Hudson seems to be one of the few who recognises that whatever it is it nowhere near satisfies the criteria to be classed as Capitalist) – the Labour Party might tinker around and smooth off a few of the rough edges when in power. However, even though not many are shouting this out loud anyone with an operational brain cell knows that whilst-ever they have a hole in their backside the Labour Party (to be precise the PLP and its handlers) is never going to challenge never mind pursue policies outside of this failed framework.

    If it ever looked like doing so – and the experience of the Party under the Corbyn leadership points to no other conclusion – it would not be allowed anywhere near power. Its role as the Loyal Opposition is one of a second eleven whenever the first eleven (the Tory Party) occasionally run out of steam. In short, they are The Continuity option to maintain the structure and privileges of an Establishment Elite which has been operating for generations.

    Thus, the obvious conclusion to Murphy’s well reasoned and evidenced based arguments is that the Country and everyone living here – as well as Truss/The Tory’s is in a state of Zugzwang. Up the creek without a paddle and set to win an unprecedented lifetime achievement accolade from the Darwin Awards

    * One of The key variable factors in Murphy’s argument is that the present inflation is not caused by high wages but what is labelled ‘external factors.’

    This being the current high price of energy. A direct consequence of Neo-Conservative foreign policy seeking to secure monopoly profits by breaking up every other Sovereign State on the planet – including its own supposed allies/friends – in order to steal their resources as the only mean to sustain Neo-liberalism as the only acceptable paradigm both domestically and across the entire World.

    This link is obvious to a blind man on a galloping horse. Yet, to continue with the horse metaphor, seeing the linkage and interaction of component parts of a single system made explicit rather than viewed and set out in simplistic reductionist terms is rarer than finding rocking horse droppings.

    • That’s been my understanding of the ‘Labour’ Party ever since I came across the thesis from the old SWP in the seventies. So really, there is no excuse for anyone wishing to be on the ‘left’ to interact in any way with ‘Labour’. A new left party which could incorporate the support of the unions, the people who supported Corbyn and have since been purged and some elements of whatever viable leftist groups succeeded the SWP/IMG/CP/etc. (I don’t know – I lost interest in them a long time ago) might become a force with at least some leverage. Then again, it might be infiltrated and subverted by rightist elements before very long, too, unless precautions were taken. I.E. involving walls and shooting parties

  3. Events have overtaken me yet again. Within an hour of posting, Truss sacked Kwarteng. Since the T & Cs of my pledge required both to be in Downing Street by year’s end, the millions who follow this blog are spared, earlier than I’d foreseen, the threat of that splitterfasernackt selfie.

      • As yet no bet has been specified. You never know you could be on another dead cert?

        In similar vein, and bear with me here, Richard Murphy this morning…..


        …..raises this concern:

        “And that, to be blunt, opens the way for an openly fascist party to replace the Tories, which really does worry me.”

        Whilst this is an interesting statement in its own right and within the context of the evidenced based analysis Murphy presents there is, to paraphrase an oft used quote from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance, a very sharp knife operating here.

        That being the easy tendency to assume that the danger of a Fascist Party (and there exists a need and responsibility to properly make explicit the characteristics and criteria which would make it so) arises from a ‘New” political Party outside of the existing Westminster bubble. A simplistic example of this avenue would be something along the lines of UKIP/BNP incorporating well known figures such as Farage among others.

        Another more realistic option presents. Which is that of an existing Party within that Westminster bubble morphing into such an entity in terms of meeting most, if not all, the necessary criteria.

        Enter Alex Christoforou and Alexander Mercouris (The Duran) who, at the very least, pursue a line of thinking I’ve been articulating in BTL discussion – particularly on Skwawkbox – for a considerable period of time:


        Towards the closing stages of this twenty two minute video segment Mercouris outlines the appeal of the (Trilateral Commission Member) Starmer led Labour Party to the UK and (Western) Global Establishment.

        Chief among which is his record of being ruthless with dissent (including any deviation from The Official Narrative (TON)) within the Labour Party stemming from the purges of members. Purges which have been notable for the total absence of any recognised due process to the point of blatant in your face pick and choose for convenience (commonly experienced as Exceptionalism/double standards in other spheres) gerrymandering.

        Mercouris proceeds to then make the obvious connection here (which I’ve made for some time) that when the Labour Party under Starmer has no qualms about acting in this way towards any dissent in their own organisation they will be equally ‘reliable’ when dealing with any dissent among the general populace if the Country were ever so foolish as to give them the power to do so by electing them to Government.

        As a consequence it seems more than reasonable to lay down a marker that the most likely Party to realise the concern expressed by Murphy in this regard will be what is at present the Labour Party.

        Now that’s a bet worth the risk. I might even take it myself?

          • The subsequent seventeen minute Duran discussion video segment following the departure of the now previous Chancellor…..


            …..suggests, on the basis of media and perhaps other speculation, that the Tory PLP will be instructing Truss to go by as early as Monday. With Sunak taking up the post of PM and Javid as his Chancellor.

            Which, to echo the point made by poster Johnny Conspiranoid Esq below, suggests two things:

            1. That, should this be the case, the economic, social and Geo-political situation is now recognised by the Establishment elite as being so dire the decision has been made that the sole and single priority is to steady the ship of State and steer it through the next twelve to eighteen months with no distractions.

            Which means…..

            2. Matters are so bad that there is no time or room for maneuver to indulge in what in the present circumstances is considered to be the distraction of a General Election.

            We could, at ‘best’ see the formation of a Government of ‘National Unity’ which sees the Tory party running the Government with selected Labour Party Grandees (Blair, Starmer, Mandelson etc) involved as both Cabinet Members and official advisers of a “Unity Government.”

        • I agree: Starmer has lacked the power to put socialists in camps, but the desire to do so is clearly there and shared by the PLP, not to mention the bureaucracy in what used to be Transport House.

  4. Shit, with Team Trump still in situ, we’d likely be staring at WW3 by now …

    Are we not now staring at WW3?

    • Well that was kind of my point, Johnny C. There’s always a danger with irony in the written word, where you don’t have other channels – body language, vocal tone etc – to triangulate communicative intent. It’s got me into trouble in the past.

    • Talking of which Johnny:


      Whereas in the past, going back six months or more, I had reported on the open contempt which leading and highly responsible Russian academics from university circles and think tanks were showing for the American political leadership in their statements on the political talk shows, this contempt has moved into an actionable phase, by which I mean that serious, God-fearing Russians are so furious with the rubbish propaganda coming out of Washington, repeated with bullhorns in Europe that if given the chance they would personally “press the button” and unleash nuclear attacks on the United States and Britain, in that order notwithstanding the possibility, even probability of a return strike, which, however enfeebled, would be devastating to their own country. That is to say, deterrence as a policy is fast losing its psychological impact on the Russian side of the argument …

      … As we have seen from even before the launch of the ‘special military operation,’ Russian talk programs identify by name individuals in the Biden team whose outstanding stupidity, obtuseness and rank ignorance they find unbearable, with the likes of Antony Blinken, Jake Sullivan and Lloyd Austin among those coming in for special mention. We are left with the impression that when Biden calls in his advisers to the Oval Office, he, senile dimwit that he is, is the bright light in the room. The Russians conclude from this that they have no one to negotiate with.

      • Well, The Russians can always fall back on the Chinese – encourage them to be a little more pro-active. Sit in the middle of the track and they’ll run the train right through you.

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