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Artillery Row

Bin Lizzie

The Tories cannot win with Truss

“In Liz We Truss”. This daft slogan went around Tory associations like a bout of dysentery. Of course, it was inevitable that Elizabeth Truss — being the final Not Rishi Sunak candidate to survive the Westminster sift — would become Prime Minister. Just as it was inevitable that the second she stumbled through the door of Number 10 she’d fall flat on her face. Popping on a pussy bow and a blue dress does not turn you into Margaret Thatcher.

Naturally, the cannon fodder on the Tory benches — not the old fruits, who are mostly good craic, but the milksops swept into Parliament by David Cameron’s “modernisations” — are already apportioning blame. “It’s all the membership’s fault!” wails Tobias Ellwood, a man who makes Lieutenant George from Blackadder Goes Forth look an exemplar of perspicacity (try saying that after your sixth gin at the Conference bar). 

When do Conservative MPs ever make an argument for capitalism?

Johnny Mercer is similarly distraught. I’m sure they’re good chaps, really — military men, excellent at following orders — but once they start attempting to engage with the shifting landscape of modern politics it’s like trying to download the contents of a Macbook Pro onto an Amstrad Personal Computer from 1987. The machinery overheats. A plume of smoke, and the floppy disc splutters out. Fortunately, that other great strategic mind, Thomas “Tugger” Tugendhat, is currently neutered in a minor government position. Well, somebody has to make the tea.

Mary Elizabeth Truss is not stupid, though she’s perfecting her impersonation of it. Her mini-budget was frankly ridiculous: not because it’s a mistake to try and make the UK more competitive — that is precisely what we need to do, and have needed to do for years — but because it was launched on a nervous, fractious country without any groundwork whatsoever. No longer can we have “our cake and eat it”; it’s time to “grow the pie”; the 45p tax cut is the “cherry on the top”. The average punter, briefly glancing over this rhetoric on their phone each morning, could be forgiven for thinking there’d been a coup d’état by Mr Kipling.

If you hold moderate, semi-sensible centre-right views, it’s all very frustrating. The Conservatives have been in power for twelve years — twelve! — and what do they have to show for it? Zilch. Nada. Nadine.

Nothing on culture, obviously; nothing on crime; nothing on housing; nothing on — well, nothing on anything, so there’s no point listing all the nothing, as it’s clear that the top of the Conservative Party isn’t interested in doing any conserving. The failure goes even deeper than that. The Tories have allowed themselves to be buffeted away from the core of what makes our country successful. There’s the liberal cultural square, yes, which has been left to atrophy and wither on their watch, but then there’s the very basis of our wealth and opportunity.

When do you ever hear a Conservative MP make an argument for capitalism? When does a Tory politician go on the TV and explain calmly, rationally, why capitalism, for all its faults, is not just the greatest but the only option for our long term prosperity? When do they ever talk about living within our means, or explain properly how all government expenditure must be paid for by British taxpayers? These arguments are so important, they’re indispensable. This system is how we fund the large and generous welfare state which we as a nation choose to implement. 

Truss, for all her wackiness, understood the need for these discussions to be had. You can’t blame Conservative members for picking her. A parched man in a desert will drink piss. You can blame Conservative MPs: for their naivety, for their hubris — for their demonstration once again of the Peter Principle which grips political parties, as it grips corporate organisations. 

They went out of their way to ensure it was the two least attractive candidates peacocking before Tory members over the Summer. They particularly bizarrely blocked Kemi Badenoch, the box office candidate — who may now have to content herself with being Leader of the Opposition before she nabs the keys to Number 10. 

Rumours are swirling of Truss’s imminent defenestration

Still, we are where we are and we must, as a wise friend often counsels me, work with the clay we are given. Alec Douglas-Home is in the air (not literally; they haven’t disinterred him).

Rumours are swirling of Truss’s imminent defenestration. Yes, on the one hand, it’s preposterous: so soon after Johnson they’ve barely finished sweeping up the bits of glass. But it’s also necessary. The Truss Project is not only torpedoed, but, in its complete lack of care or common sense, it’s in danger of taking with it the very economic ideas it’s supposed to be reviving. Of course, the Tories could stick with her — in the Micawber-like hope “something turns up”. But, let’s be blunt: nothing is going to turn up. 

The Lady who wasn’t for turning has u-turned so many times, it’s no wonder she looks dizzy. Her only electoral asset was her supposed strength and determination — and that went the second she staggered out of her infamous Laura Kuenssberg interview, having promised to double down at breakfast on plans she’d torn up by teatime.

As things stand, Truss commands the confidence of nobody. She barely commands her own. She’s put the government’s two best communicators — Badenoch and James Cleverly — in roles which constantly send them abroad. She’s clinging to the edge of a cliff, and it’d be quicker and cleaner to step on her fingers and switch to a leader that can manage an orderly and dignified defeat. Cleverly or Ben Wallace would fit the bill. There are probably others — though I suspect a Sunak coronation would unleash too much bad blood. 

Perhaps the Conservative Party is prepared to cling to the husk and accept electoral annihilation. I doubt it is — and, cards on the table, I don’t want it to. There are plenty of prats in the Tory Party; but there are plenty of decent people, too. The idea that this is an organisation filled to its brim with fascists and raging white nationalists would be comic if it weren’t so inaccurate and unpleasant. Tony Blair — who I admire for his skill and intelligence, but dislike for what he possibly unwittingly unleashed — once remarked that you should never blame on malevolence or conspiracy what could just as easily be chalked up to incompetence. I think that applies to the Tory Party. I think it applies to Labour, too.

A replacement Prime Minister is needed, as soon as possible. Who knows? A reassuring and coherent Caretaker PM might win their own mandate. Look more deeply into the polls, and there is still considerable scepticism of the Starmer offer after all. But Truss has no chance. Five weeks in, and it’s time to bin Lizzie.

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